When Filipino-German Ralph Becker moved to the Philippines in 2015, he found the vegetables in Metro Manila to be pricier and of lower quality than what he used to buy while living in San Francisco, California, where he worked in tech. This compelled him to try growing his own.
While researching ways to do it, he stumbled upon hydroponics, the method of growing plants without soil. “My love for tinkering and building stuff prompted me to investigate further,” Ralph says. After watching numerous video tutorials, he set up his own hydroponics system at his Makati apartment using upcycled materials. Realizing that hydroponics can help solve local food supply issues, Ralph founded Urban Greens a year later. Their mission is to introduce a cleaner, fresher and smarter way to grow greens, and to build the largest indoor farm in the Philippines and Southeast Asia.
They’ve begun constructing the “modular and scalable” Urban Greens Z Farm at the Ruins in Poblacion, Makati City. At the moment, the team has about eight six-foot towers of plants in hydroponic systems, which they can easily replicate or transport.
“We now grow our own crops including basil, mint, lemongrass and local plants such as gynura prucumbens and talinum [an edible succulent], which we’ve started supplying to other establishments,” says Ralph. At the moment, they supply mint and basil to Z Hostel and tea to Kapwa Studio salon.
Urban Greens also set up hydroponics systems at Batala Bar and at the LifeScience Center for Health and Wellness. What’s more, the company holds hydroponics workshops for individuals and businesses. “As we teach more people how to do hydroponic farming, it allows us to find spaces that can be maintained by people who know how,” says Ralph.
Urban Greens offers an urban farm tour and organic tea tasting at their indoor farm every day at 3pm. The meeting point is the Z Hostel lobby. Approach the front desk for inquiries. The fee is P150.
This article first appeared in the August 2018 issue of Smile magazine.