The kitchen garden of the future that will bring sustainable farming to the home

Plants involved in the PERNUG trial

The PERNUG project incorporates a specially designed nutrition and health app to allow consumers to select what to grow according to their personalised nutritional needs - Credit: Quadram Institute

With the UN’s COP 26 climate change conference being held in Glasgow this autumn we look at a new project being co-run by researchers at Quadram Institute at Norwich Research Park that is set to bring sustainable ‘vertical farming’ and personalised nutrition to people’s homes by developing kitchen gardens that grow produce to match individual dietary needs. 

The EIT Food PERsonalised NUtrition through kitchen Gardens, or PERNUG project, aims to develop attractive, state-of-the-art systems that will enable people to grow a range of different food plants in a domestic setting without the need for soil or pesticides. 

Using a specially designed nutrition and health app, consumers will be able to select what to grow from a range of different crops and varieties linked to their own personalised nutritional needs. The system would provide the seeds and the growing medium, which would include any necessary vitamins and minerals. The app would also provide tasty and nutritious recipes to help consumers make the most of their kitchen garden bounty. 

The project is supported by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) and is a collaboration between the Quadram Institute at Norwich Research Park, Studio Kapp, specialists in developing and marketing kitchen gardens, and KU Leuven, one of the world’s top-ranked research-led universities.  

Dr Paul Kroon, from the Quadram Institute, said: “Kitchen gardens have a range of consumer and environmental benefits compared to those obtained via conventional supply chains. But they also offer a great opportunity to deliver personalised nutrition.  

“The PERNUG project is developing kitchen gardens that grow more nutrient-rich plants, allowing users to select from carefully designed and delicious recipes that deliver the types and amounts of minerals and vitamins they need.” 

Vertical farming is a term used to describe crops that are grown in vertical stacks, under artificial conditions of light and temperature. The aim is to achieve higher crop productivity from smaller spaces. It’s one of the recognised solutions to making agriculture more sustainable and ensuring a supply of produce all-year round. The system efficiently reuses resources, reducing wastage. Vertical farms have been shown to use 90% less water and deliver much higher yields per square metre of land than conventional farming methods. 

The PERNUG project aims to make this available as a kitchen garden by reducing the cost of the shelving units used and designing them to fit into domestic and workplace settings.   

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The sustainability benefits it can deliver are many, including the elimination of the supply chain that is usually needed to deliver fresh produce to the home, at the same time cutting the environmental cost of transportation and also the amount of food wasted due to spoilage in transit.  

Energy is a major input into vertical farming, but with around 20% of energy in Europe coming from renewable sources, these energy inputs become increasingly sustainable.  

Cutting out the food miles also maximises the nutrient levels in the produce and consumers will also notice the improved taste and quality from having freshly picked produce on hand. 

Because people’s nutritional requirements differ with age and lifestyle, the project will look to develop personalised nutrition solutions. Initially, it will focus on iron and vitamin B12. That’s because in almost every European country, over half of women of childbearing age don’t get the recommended intake of iron.  

Vitamin B12 is a micronutrient that is usually provided for in the diet by meat, with plants unable to make it. The rise in popularity of vegetarian and vegan diets is expected to increase the number of people deficient in vitamin B12, so researchers are developing ways to enhance the mineral content of crops to bridge this gap. 

Pilot studies are currently being run and the app is being co-designed with representative consumers. 

“Rising consumer awareness of the inherent links between food, health and the environment are driving demand for more personalised and sustainable food choices,” said Lauri Kapp, founder of Studio Kapp. “Yet, the values, focus and methods of the present food system are not aligned to help consumers achieve their individual health goals or to reduce their environmental footprint.   

“This is why we are developing an intelligent home food production system that answers to the unique needs of individual consumers – a new system enabling healthy nutrition by delivering quality before quantity and by supporting prevention of food related disease through personalised nutrition.”