Grégoire Gentile, co-founder and CEO of Caulys, reveals all about his personal project- turned-successful Swiss-based business, and how his intelligent vegetable gardens provide the freshest produce to restaurants and keen foodies all year round.
I began this project during my Master’s degree at EPFL (the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology), where I was studying mechanical engineering. In fact, EPFL became my first customer.
I was devoted to finding a way of linking technology and sustainability to find new solutions for food production, and I came up with the idea of working in vertical farming. I wanted to be part of these emerging farming methods.
However, I didn't want to be a “smart farmer” – growing produce in a different way yet still be lumbered with packaging and logistics. I wanted to bring this whole product to the end consumer and enable anyone at home or in a restaurant (or anywhere) to grow food on site.
Our product comes in two forms – the first is the “farm” or the hardware that provides artificial lighting, irrigation, nutrient delivery, and climate control to ensure the best growing conditions for your produce.
The second is the Seed-Pads. These go hand-in-hand with the farm and are needed to grow the produce. They contain substrates, seeds, and nutrients that customers can purchase every month, like a subscription. When these are inserted into the farm, the seeds start to grow.
One of my biggest concerns was being able to provide these vertical gardening structures without requiring any additional work or input – the process needed to be as simple as possible. I wanted restaurants, for example, to be able to grow microgreens and aromatic herbs on-site without staff having to spend time doing anything that concerned “the gardens.”
So it really is as simple as it sounds. Once you purchase a farm, you can plant a pad, humidify a little, put water in the system, and then harvest!
We have two versions of our vertical gardens – the Pro version produces copious amounts of greens, so it’s perhaps more suitable for restaurant purposes.
We now also have the Home version which is more adapted to smaller-scale farming and can fit adequately into your kitchen.
Sustainability was one of the key reasons I started this business. We’ve managed to eradicate all packaging and transport – up to 85% of the environmental impact from growing this kind of produce (herbs and young shoots) comes from the packaging, and transport is also a huge contributing factor.
Food waste is also very prevalent. With Caulys, because the greens are not cut, caterers and restaurants only use what they require, and thanks to the substrates in the pads and climatic conditions of the farms, the greens stay healthy for much longer, or until cut.
Not necessarily. In countries like Switzerland, even countryside restaurants with gardens struggle to grow their own produce the whole year round because of cold temperatures. This applies to most countries in the EU, and even the US.
Fresh produce is always needed – even in winter. We have two options really: import from the likes of Morocco and Spain, or grow locally on-site. I know which option ticks my box!
The only chemicals we use are the nutrients needed for the plants. An interesting fact about vertical farming is that the water not used by the plants in the first instance (and which contains the substrates) is recirculated and eventually goes back into the plants.
Everything is controlled – and thanks to the hydroponic system, you can decrease the need for nutrients by up to 70%.
In terms of pesticides, herbicides, and others, none of these are required. The air is filtered, which removes all risk of alien bodies, too.
Expansion is key. Finding solutions to lead, produce, and consume in a sustainable way is the only way forward.
From an energy point of view, if we could replace the need for electricity within our systems (for the artificial lighting), then we would emit an extremely low carbon footprint, as we have already disposed of transport and packaging. It’s a tricky path, but one that we need to go down in the near future.
For now, we are only in Switzerland, but are going to launch in France over the next few weeks and intend to expand into the rest of the European market soon. Who knows, maybe our farming solution will end up on Mars?!