Central students promote greenhouse farming with Revolve Farms
Two students aspire to battle Midwestern industrial agriculture with their new sustainability-focused business, Revolve Farms.
Central Michigan University May 2018 graduate Kyle Platt of Grand Ledge and Armada senior Brendan Mantey established Revolve Farms in November 2017. The urban agricultural startup aims to expand the use of passive solar greenhouses, specifically in humid continental climates subjected to four differentiating seasons.
"Our dream is to sell our greenhouses to community organizations, farmers and families all throughout the Midwest," Mantey said. "Most people don't think about where their food came from, what is in it, or how it was produced. We want to make food transparent, fresh and fun."
Platt and Mantey competed in the April 2018 New Venture Competition, hosted by the CMU College of Business Administration.
They received $10,000 after recognition for projecting "Most Impact on Michigan." The money was used to create their first 12-by-12 prototype FreshCycle.
"Our passive solar design maximizes the efficiency of the sun's heat and light and our subterranean heating and cooling system utilizes the thermodynamics of the soil," Mantey said.
The cost of FreshCycle, made with polycarbonate panels, was $11,000.
Platt said they plan on reducing costs on their next greenhouse to $7,000.
Mantey said the major expenses of their first product came from trials and errors of making their first ever greenhouse.
He said it was "over-engineered" in a hyper-focused process inevitably consisting of sizing obstacles, ongoing edits and costly purchases that weren't always necessary.
"We learned so much while we were doing the prototype," Mantey said. "We can really cut back the costs by removing things that aren’t needed for everyone."
Learning the craft
Prior to establishing Revolve Farms, Platt and Mantey enrolled in a Passive Solar Greenhouse Design course by the digital Small Farm Academy.
Before completing the 10 module self-study course, they reached out to greenhouse farmers throughout Canada and Colorado, such as Build.Sow.Grow and the Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute, which focuses on making gardening accessible at high altitudes and greenhouses with zero net energy consumption.
Platt said such establishments understood how to use light to extend seasons within greenhouses despite their cold winters.
They learned structural components could be purchased at retail companies like Home Depot and Menards, as well as the Greenhouse Megastore, which Mantey said was "like eBay (for) greenhouses."
The future of Revolve Farms
Both partners have been involved with organizations like the Student Environmental Alliance, Take Back the Tap and Student Government Association's Sustainability Committee. Mantey said such communities and interests encouraged their love for food and sustainability.
"There is a nationwide health food market that cycles billions of dollars through the economy. Much of this is based on selling and advertising new ‘superfoods’ and fast track options to lose weight," Mantey said, "They all focus on avoiding the true problems, and that is the true connection to food."
Through use of greenhouses, middle income families and communities will be able to grow crops months prior to their outdoor season while also having total control of their produce.
Platt said it will also reduce the transportation of food to the Midwest from warmer areas in the United States.
"An energy efficient greenhouse can help reduce the energy costs and therefore relate to the carbon footprint and extend seasons so we can get more local food," he said. "If we can limit some of that industrial agricultural use with sustainable practices for growing and also do it an energy efficient environment that extends the seasons that is kind of a win-win in many ways."