Vahaa, an Istanbul-based start-up, offers various vertical farming solutions. One of their products is the ‘Vahaa Hangin’ Garden’, a smart indoor hydroponic garden combined with IoT technologies that let users grow fresh, clean, and nutritionally produce at home. The app-controlled garden can grow different varieties of leafy greens, cherry tomatoes and herbs, but also fruit, like strawberries.
Increasing demand The company sells throughout the whole country, with Istanbul as its main focus. “We see great demand from Istanbul, Ankara, Bursa and İzmir. These cities are the most urbanized areas of our country, with a population exceeding over 15 million people, with long distances from agricultural areas. During the pandemic, we noticed a boost in home gardening. As people started questioning the food supply chains, their transparency, their food safety, and the idea of food shortage became a serious problem. Instead, people started to grow their own fresh produce at home, to eliminate these concerns. In fact, the sale of seedlings has increased in Turkey during the COVID-19 period”, Orhan Çelebi, Co-founder and CPO of Vahaa Farming Solutions says. Currently, Vahaa notices demand from companies that want to attract more customers with a ‘local food’ value proposition.
App-controlled growing walls
“The embedded irrigation and LED lighting are automated with our in-house designed IoT system. We generate notifications and a warning system to inform users with the data we receive from the smart sensors of the water level, temperature, and humidity”, Orhan Çelebi, Co-founder and CPO of Vahaa Farming Solutions says. The Vahaa App lets users track their produce, from seeding to the harvest, with a smart schedule. The smart schedule notifies and informs users of every week’s growing processes and the to-do activities. Such as, filling the water tank, add nutrients, etc. “With the integration of the Vahaa App, you don't need a green thumb to become a farmer” Çelebi adds. The Vahaa Hangin’ Garden is easy to clean as there is a removable cap on the water tank which makes cleaning the inside of the tank very simple. “Since we don’t use any soil, there is barely any mess left.”
Çelebi gives two reasons for having the seedling tables located underneath the growing walls. First of all, instead of just growing heads of lettuce or any kind of greens, customers can grow microgreens through the seedling area. The growing wall allows to grow up to 25 plants at the same time and in addition to that, the seedling area allows more output through the growth of microgreens. Second of all, with the seedling area, the plants’ growth cycle becomes shorter. “If we look at our competitors, it can be seen that the seedling- and growing processes are done in the same area. This results in a 3-week longer growth cycle”, Çelebi mentions. In addition to that, through the seedling area, users can create a monthly planting schedule allowing them to harvest a large bowl of greens and herbs every day.
Çelebi says: “We chose hydroponics over aeroponics, as aeroponics is a sensitive method which requires a lot of attention and is difficult to understand for beginners. Next to that, the high initial cost is also a barrier for market penetration. We believe hydroponics is a user-friendly method and low-cost, therefore, we think it’s the best method for small scale in-house production.” In the growing towers, a porous substrate is used. The smart media provides enough oxygen to the plant roots and eases the water flow. “As the substrate is incredibly light, it makes maintenance, planting, and harvesting very effortless. Using aggregate as a substrate in a vertical system is not reasonable due to the inconvenience of its maintenance and weight”, he adds.
Turkey has experienced very rapid urbanization over the last six decades as the urban share of Turkey's population has risen from 25% (in 1950) to nearly 75% today. “In addition to that, we see a sharp increase in tech-enthusiasts among the younger generation in Turkey. The consumption of organic produce in Turkey, now, is 500 Million USD and still growing, making it an important growth driver in the process. “The younger generation is aware of the food insecurity and safety that can occur in the future. This is another key growth driver: to better mobilize and eliminate the (wrongful) perceptions on vertical farming. We partnered up with several schools to educate children on indoor farming, as they’re our future farmers.”, Çelebi states.
New products in the pipeline
Çelebi continues, “We are constantly looking for new ideas to improve our product, both in hardware and software, to eventually implement them in our future versions. In the short term, we are planning to develop similar versions of the Vahaa Hangin’ Garden with additional features. We have plans to develop B2B products, such as fully automated controlled environment features for bigger scale productions. While developing new ideas, we always make sure to be aligned with UNDP’s sustainable development being: goals of zero hunger, good health & well-being, sustainable cities & communities, and responsible production & consumption.