“It all started with wanting to find a viable solution to my wife’s food allergies,” says Tarren Wolfe, CEO and founder of Urban Cultivator, a line of hydroponic cabinets used to grow herbs and small vegetables. The obvious solution? Grow your own but how do you do that in winter when the ground’s frozen? The answer, of course, is to bring the outside, inside and grow the foodstuffs hydroponically.
Twenty years ago when he picked up his B.F.A, Wolfe had no idea he’d be an international purveyor of garden cabinetry. Back then he was a student at the San Francisco Academy of Art University thinking about a career in advertising. The transplanted Canadian (he had an uncle in California) signed up for color, perspective and life drawing before moving into the world of digital graphics and the earlier versions of Photoshop and Illustrator. “I got a feel for a lot of different things,” he says
Tarren Wolfe ( on the left) with Culinary Arts program Instructor Hong Chew
He moved back to Canada. A brief stint in his chosen field didn’t stick. But Wolfe and his buddies came up with another idea. They would make automated growing boxes for the restaurant trade. “The entrepreneurial side took over as well as a love for growing,” Wolfe remembers.
The result, and six prototypes later, was the first of its kind, a simple and direct interpretation of the mantra ‘form follows function’ which Wolfe and his partners dubbed the Urban Cultivator. Standing six and a half feet tall, the units automatically control light, humidity, temperature and watering cycles. The customer plants the seeds, adds fertilizer and voila, the greens are ready to be picked and eaten faster than if they were planted outside.
Urban Cultivator for commercial situations
Urban Cultivator in a Restaurant Kitchen
Sprouts grown inside the Urban Cultivator
Serving fresh food is paramount in the restaurant trade. Even better if you can grow it yourself. That does away with storage, spoilage and carbon emissions because of transportation. And as Wolfe points out, “eating live food has at least double the nutritional value of eating pre-cut food.”
Next up, the residential-sized Kitchen Cultivator which Wolfe introduced a year later. “We attract a clientele that is health conscious and tend to be foodies,” he says. Foodies like to source food locally and what could be more local than having it in your kitchen? “It seemed like an obvious fit,” he continues.
Kitchen Cultivator with a Butcher-block top
The three foot high Kitchen Cultivator functions as a built-in or a stand alone. The size of a dishwasher, it hooks into the home’s existing power and water supply.
Wolfe used to sell his Kitchen Cultivators as one-offs. Now, he’s designer savvy, supplying his dealers with special software that allows the in-store designer to create a picture of what their customer’s unit will look like when integrated into their planned or existing kitchen. The model comes with a butcher block top in either maple, ash, oak or walnut. Doors are available in clear glass, crystal glass or, if you prefer, a dark tint. Although seeing your dinner grow in front of your eyes is pretty cool too. Bon appétit!