CloudFarm debuts ‘K-cup for food’
MIDDLEBURY — At first glance, agriculture and computer technology don’t seem to have much in common.
But Middlebury entrepreneur Cam MacKugler says when paired together, they produce wonderful results. His startup business, CloudFarm, is aimed at introducing gardening to Millennials and others who may have an interest in locally sourced food.
“CloudFarm is a merging of agriculture and technology that simplifies the process of gardening,” MacKugler said. “Our goal is to remove the barriers of entry to gardening so that anybody, whether you’re in Brooklyn or Burlington, can grow their own food.”
CloudFarm on Friday launched a fundraising campaign for its debut product, the Seedsheet. Billed as “the K-cup for food,” the Seedsheet allows gardeners to purchase a weed barrier into which seed pods are fastened. All the gardener has to do is place the sheet over their garden, and the plants will germinate.
Cloudfarm – The Future of Fresh from Cam MacKugler on Vimeo.
The native Vermonter and 2009 Middlebury College graduate came up with the idea three years ago while housesitting for a friend (which in Orwell means overseeing an 80-acre dairy). While there he also tended to the family’s large garden.
“While I was out there one day I had this revelation that I loved having access to all this healthy, local organic produce, but I didn’t have the time, space and knowledge to grow my own,” MacKugler recalled. “I had this ‘aha’ moment where I wondered how I could simplify the process of gardening so it’s entirely approachable to anybody?”
He rushed inside and, with a crayon, sketched what would become the Seedsheet. After toying with prototypes, MacKugler said he became confident that he could turn Seedsheet into a marketable product.
“It became clear that this is a lot better than anything else that’s on the market, and this is something that I should be able to build at scale,” he said.
After presenting his idea at the 2012 Financing the Working Lands conference in Middlebury, MacKugler connected with David Bradbury of the Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies. For the last two years, MacKugler has worked out of the VCET office on Court Square in Middlebury.
Friday marked the unofficial launch of the company, as it was the first day of a Kickstarter campaign to finance production of the Seedsheet. MacKugler hopes to raise $30,000 during the 30-day campaign. Right now, the Seedsheets are manufactured by hand.
In layman’s terms, Seedsheet is a weed-resistant barrier with holes cut in it at the ideal spacing for whatever plant variety the gardener chooses. A seed disc — two layers of water-soluble material that houses each seed — is placed in each hole. CloudFarm then ships the Seedsheet, and all gardeners have to do is unfold it and place it over their plot.
“It saves a huge amount of time, especially if you’re going for a huge garden,” MacKugler said.
Green thumbs plan their Seedsheet online, by choosing the size of their garden and the seeds they wish to plant. CloudFarm’s software takes care of the rest. MacKugler said this saves a lot of time and hassle from the old-fashioned way.
“If you were to compare it against conventional gardening, of looking through a hundred-page seed catalog, or going to a hardware store and trying to figure out what the difference is between five different types of beets … that’s very difficult and challenging for someone who’s getting into gardening for the first time,” he said.
Right now, the largest Seedsheet CloudFarm produces is 12 by 20 feet, though he envisions the most popular size will be 4 by 8 feet. The cost of a Seedsheet depends on the size and also types of seed chosen, but MacKugler pegged an average 4-by-8-foot sheet at $50.
In the future, MacKugler hopes to sell his product wholesale and in retail stores.
If the launch of Seedsheet is a success, MacKugler plans to develop those products further. He also plans to scale the Seedsheets far beyond the 12-by-20-foot size that he currently produces.
“We’re going to try to get into commercial applications for more of the smaller, organic farmer,” he said. “You can save days of man hours by reducing that planting process.”
Seedsheet isn’t the only product that MacKugler has kicking around his head.
“The original idea I had was of a more all-encompassing, technologically embedded garden,” he explained. Because he hasn’t applied for a patent, MacKugler was mum on the details, but did say it involves light and humidity sensors and the ability to control the garden remotely.
MacKugler said a successful launch of the Seedsheet is essential to enticing investors to commit resources to help CloudFarm grow.
“We’re hoping to get the traction to launch into larger retail establishments and then also get the social proof so we can go to investors and scale our product and company,” he said.
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