Small space gardening just took a giant leap forward with modgarden’s tinyFarm, a modular growing system that produces high density greens year-round. About the size of a cabinet, modgarden combines beautiful design with simple functionality (read: automation!). You just fill a reservoir with water and sensors release the perfect amount of water, while LED lights give just the right amount of light. Anyone, including kids, can work it and be rewarded with healthy organic foods. Urban gardening has never been so easy.
We’re so excited to introduce modgarden’s founder Aamar Khwaja, as he tells us the backstory and inspiration behind his microfarm.
Plenty: Tell us a bit about your background, and what led you to create modgarden?
Aamar: For most of my professional life I worked on Wall Street – I was an Investment Banking Analyst at Merrill Lynch, a VP at JPMorgan-Chase, and a Senior Technology Consultant at Bank of America. It was rewarding financially but wasn’t something I was passionate about. To be honest, it was soulless work.
It was also making me very sick, and I suffered from chronic fatigue, eczema, and debilitating migraines. Something had to change. I had to stop wasting my days doing something I had no passion for and which left me feeling empty.
I left Wall Street and came to Toronto. I felt better with the change but I didn’t become truly healthy until I realized that it wasn’t only what I was doing every day that was making me sick, it was also what I was eating every day. At that moment I dedicated myself to eating healthy and to helping others to eat healthy. This eventually led to my startup, modgarden, where I finally found something I could pursue with all my heart, and that would fulfill me both emotionally and spiritually.
Plenty: When did you start your business, and how has it developed?
Aamar: I started modgarden just over two years ago and feverishly started writing a patent. I’ve built three prototypes so far and am now about to launch a BETA test. We’ve just entered the market with pre-sales and have had unbelievable results!
Plenty: What’s your favourite part of your job? The most challenging?
Aamar: My favourite part is that I’m guiding the ship and fully empowered to develop value to society without compromise and solve a dire need in the market for people who are interested in eating living food. I’m not at the behest of someone else’s sole pursuit of profits. While sustainability is important and necessary, providing a basic right to healthy food for everyone is more important – food that you can grow and absolutely know where it came from.
modgarden is going to change the face of urban agriculture, especially for those on low incomes who cannot afford the ridiculous high price of organic food at the grocery store, not to mention that it’s pretty much dead by the time it reaches your palate. Organic food is a basic human right for everyone. We should have it for free or at least at farm prices. We should all be farmers and enjoy evocative healthy food.
Plenty: What or who has inspired you in your work?
Aamar: I’m inspired by lifelong innovators like Elon Musk, who gives every ounce of himself to bring fair, sustainable, green, good-for-humans solutions to the world, as well as the chefs on the Netflix series Chef’s Table, because they pursue excellence in every aspect of their product. There are many unsung heroes, quietly working in isolation (at least in the beginning), with a vision for their art and repertoire, and a knowledge and love of their craft. I’m inspired by their ambition, these people who will die trying to get their vision of the world and make it a better place.
I’m inspired by those unsung families that don’t have many choices, and my absolute desperate need to do something about it. It’s been a longing my entire life and I have sought out opportunities to be of service. modgarden fell to me, and I’m ever so grateful that I have now the opportunity to serve people in a way that can change lives for the better.
Plenty: Do you have a favourite quote?
It is better to have struggled and lost than never to have struggled at all.
~ Pete Seeger
To struggle in happiness is the lowest form of pursuit, while struggle to make Impact is the highest….
~ Aamar Khwaja
Plenty: How do you come up with new ideas or designs?
Aamar: When I think about design and furniture, it’s always in the context of what would make my customer feel happy and proud of every part of my design but in its simplest form. How it feels to the touch, how it fits in the room, and how it adds value to a person’s life. I think in silence but I visualize the feeling, the functionality, the energy a product gives off when placed in your presence. The design of modgarden was inspired by Heather Dubbeldam who grabs people’s attention with her own design philosophy. It captured so well the energetic aspects of what I wanted the product to be for those who purchase it.
Coupling design that’s elegant, with functionality that’s simple, is what makes me happy. I wish I had more of an engineering background because I could have done so much more. But I think where I am in life and the culmination of my varied life experience has enabled me to more thoroughly think through the completeness of what my customer wants and needs.
Plenty: What are you most excited about right now?
Aamar: That we sold a tremendous number of units at the National Home Show. And that I have customers that I can delight and serve. It’s an amazing feeling to have this sense of responsibility, a feeling that they have entrusted me with a piece of myself and I’m excited to share it and continue to interact with them and be a part of their lives for many years to come. I’m ecstatic that we are connected. I will learn from them and hopefully live up to what they expect of me and modgarden.
Plenty: What have you been focusing on lately?
Aamar: I’m totally focused on our BETA test and finishing the refinements of modgarden to ensure it has the fine touches of a product that makes the customer’s life easier. So I’m obsessing over how to use it, how it feels to pull out a shelf, how it sounds, how it feels when I touch it.
Plenty: Tell us about your customers.
Aamar: My customers are concerned about health. They are activists who want to speak up, and they are traditionalists who are forward thinkers. They like cool things but without the ‘flim’ (this word doesn’t exist but it came out when I was thinking of flimsy things which are wasteful use of one’s time and materials), and they accept technology where it counts, not where it impedes health.
They want the control back in their lives because we live in a world where there is a massive drive to automation. While this is potentially a good thing, at times it goes where it it doesn’t belong, as in food production which then ends up in our bodies. There is a limit to technology, but there is no limit to natural systems that must be allowed to coexist and be allowed to be perfect as they are. Technology and nature can exist hand in hand as long as each respects the other.
Many thanks to Aamar for this interview, and Plenty wishes modgarden’s tinyFarm much success!