Kijani Grows is an Oakland business that “produces and installs smart aquaponics gardens for homes, schools, and corporate settings.” Run by Kenyan engineer Eric Maundu, it currently operates out of American Steel Studios.
Kijani Grows designs and manufactures Aquaponic Smart Gardens that grow microgreens. Before studying Industrial Robotics and Computer Engineering, Eric Maundu developed an interest in agriculture and aquaponics in Kenya. Seeing how farmers struggled with lack of land, water, and other resources, Eric decided to combine his skills in engineering with his interest in farming in order to create self-sufficient farming methods that conserve water. His interest and degrees led him in 2009 to start Kijani Grows.
Kijani Grows Aquaponic Smart Gardens are mobile, two-tiered gardens. On the top tier, microgreens grow in an inert medium of gravel and expanded clay. On the bottom tier, below the garden, sits a fish tank. An open-source platform manages and maintains the garden’s operations, integrating the two tiers in a self-monitoring and self-controlling system.
A typical Kijani Grows garden includes a fish tank at the bottom, about a foot of pebbles on top (the pebbles function as the growing medium for plants), growing lights on top, and a custom-designed Arduino on the side that provides detailed information about the status of the ecosystem (systems in development allow for control of various elements of the ecosystem, such as lighting, to be controlled remotely from the operator’s computer). See video and photos below for more info.
To maintain these systems, the Smart Aquaponic Garden uses sensors, microprocessors, and controller kits. The sensors monitor tank level, water quality, flow rates, water temperature, pH, irrigation, drainage, and light intensity. The microprocessors send real-time data to an online platform – like a Facebook or Twitter account, or a personal website – where the information can be shared and viewed in visualized charts. The controller kits use actuators and pumps to move the water through the system and feed the fish.
Because the gardens are fully automated, they can be controlled from anywhere in the world. The system notifies users by text, email, or Twitter if an issue arises, giving them options to make changes.
A Kijani Grows Smart Aquaponic Garden combines the benefits of aquaponics with the power of technology to grow fresh, organic microgreens:
- Fresh Microgreens. Fresh microgreens grow on the gardens’ top tier. Using the nitrogen water from the fish to fertilize the microgreens, the garden produces more than five servings of fresh, organic microgreens every day. By growing fresh microgreens, users can always have fresh salad on hand, promoting health and well-being.
- Low Maintenance. Automated watering, lighting, and fertilizing allow users to grow microgreens without weeding or worrying about pests. By using the garden’s automated system, users can maintain the garden’s optimal growth conditions and, if an issue arises, the system notifies the user by text, email, or twitter, with options for making changes.
- Energy Efficient. The garden requires only two percent of the water used in conventional farming. By using the garden’s recycled water system and automatic lighting, users can get ten times the amount of food using 70 percent less energy than conventional gardening.
- Real-Time Control. Real-time control helps users monitor and control the gardens’ conditions as they occur. By linking their gardens to a real-time online database, users can monitor and control the conditions of their garden, such as pump cycles, water flow rates, fish feeding, and indoor light intensity. A video camera captures the garden and aquarium every five seconds, allowing users to monitor and track the garden’s progress online or with a smartphone. Also, in order to keep records of their garden’s progress, users can store videos and images online.
- Cloud Networking. Cloud networking connects multiple gardens around the world through a common web page. By connecting their garden system through the Kijani Grows’ network, users can upload data to multiple platforms, such as a Facebook or Twitter account, allowing individuals and groups to share data, experiences, ideas, and tips for addressing problems online. Data plans (sold separately) allow users to access any Smart Garden in the world, but users can share their own garden’s information through their personal blogs.
- Computer Programming. An open-source Arduino microprocessor monitors and runs all the garden’s electrical systems. The garden’s system is pre-programmed, but by connecting their computer in-line with the microprocessor, users can learn how to program in multiple computer languages, such as Linux, Python, and HTML5, and use these programs to manipulate the gardens’ growing conditions. Additionally, by using computer graphics software, users can design 3-D models of future gardens, learning how to think and reason spatially.
Use in Schools
Over the next 10 years, 4.6 million jobs will need to be filled by candidates possessing a strong foundation in computer programming and computer science. Unfortunately, current trends in education suggest that students are graduating today with little to no computer programming knowledge. For example, computing in the Core, a non-partisan advocacy coalition of associations, corporations, and scientific societies performed a study titled “Running on Empty: The Failure to Teach K-12 Computer Science in The Digital Age.” They note the following:
“As the digital age has transformed the world and the workforce, U.S. K-12 education has fallen woefully behind in preparing students with the fundamental computer science knowledge and skills they need for future success. To be a well-educated citizen as we move toward an ever-more computing-intensive world and to be prepared for the jobs of the 21st Century, students must have a deeper understanding of the fundamentals of computer science.”
If we are to encourage students to learn advanced computer skills, we must expose them to computer programming platforms at a young age. Kijani Grows’ Smart Aquaponic Garden can help in this endeavor by introducing students to computer programming in a dynamic, interactive, and engaging way.
In the March 10, 2013 issue of the San Francisco Chronicle In the East Bay, Eric Maundu was featured on the front page:
Kijani Grows was the recipient of the East Bay Express Best Place to Buy Aquaponics Gardens Award in 2014.
- Official Site: http://kijanigrows.com