GREENLIGHT: On The Green Monster That Lurks Under Gastown’s Nicli Antica Pizzeria

by Claudia Chan | Imagine a garden that requires practically no effort – no need to haul manure to and fro, no seeding, no fertilizing and no heavy equipment. You don’t even have to water it. The Urban Cultivator is urban farming reconsiderd. Your garden couldn’t get any simpler nor closer because it’s growing right in your kitchen. It’s a hydroponic appliance (a refrigerator lookalike) that houses micro greens and herbs indoors all year long in the most ideal of conditions. It self-regulates, so all you have to do is push a few buttons to ensure it’s at the right PH levels and that it has adequate lighting and water to keep your greens happy.

For the professional chef who works in a commercial kitchen, the Urban Cultivator could be their new best friend. Chefs are able to cook in close proximity to their produce, feeding their guests with fresh, quality greens like arugula, amaranth, nasturtiums, wheatgrass and pea tendrils. They wouldn’t be disappointed by soggy or dried up old veggies or have to wait impatiently for produce to be delivered on time from far away farms. This is truly a zero-mile diet.

I swung by the Urban Cultivator’s Gastown storefront – the Living Produce Aisle – this week to have a look see for myself. Situated downstairs right between Nicli Antica Pizzeria and Vicino Pastaria & Deli, the LPA is a showroom as well as a future green grocers where both restaurateurs and the public can go to purchase fresh microgreens and herbs. Currently, they’ve made a sweet bargain with Bill McCaig, owner of the two restaurants – free rent for commercial cultivators and fresh greens (a commercial cultivator goes for a cool $6000, while a home cultivator has a price point of $2300). Other notable fans of the technology include chefs from the Four Seasons in both Vancouver and Whistler, Jamie Oliver’s Food Foundation, The Pear Tree, businesses in San Francisco and investors in Mongolia who’ve recently ordered a decent load to install in new housing units (go figure).

While the concept may appear fairly novel, the design for the technology is actually born out of its original use to grow medical marijuana. Tarren Wolfe is one of the founders behind BC Northern Lights, a decade-old business that produces hydroponic units for marijuana cultivation. Essentially, he and his partners figured that they could grow any kind of green with this technology.

Most recently, Tarren, along with partners Davin MacGregor and Myles Ormand, pitched their product to Arlene Dickinson of Venture Communications on an episode of Dragon’s Den. The trio were originally hoping to have $400,000 in exchange for 10% equity and have just settled on $400,000 in marketing services, wherein Arlene would receive a 20% equity stake in the business.

It’s undoubtedly an exciting time for their venture as it continues to grow and capture more big players in the food industry. While interest is mostly local, the concept is beginning to enthuse home owners and big businesses on an international level (even Subway), which perhaps could suggest the eventual revolutionizing of the farm to kitchen to plate dynamic. Maybe with less reliance on farms, it’ll be just kitchens to plates.


Claudia Chan is an advocate of all things green. Born and raised in Vancouver, she is inspired by the work of local urban farmers, eco artists and policy makers who make this city the most lush and livable to work and play in. Her mission with Scout and her “Greenlight” column is to impart her enthusiasm for bike lanes, community gardens, farmers’ markets and more to her fellow Vancouverites.

There are 2 comments

  1. This unit is so loud and obnoxiousness every time the pump turns on i want to hang myself. Its really messy with the dirt and not to mention mold and rot. It looks nice in a picture, but it is not really practical, and does not grow herbs fast enough to consume them. May as well just buy organic herbs and have a nice graden in the summer. Maybe even an areogarden in the winter they are cheep and do the same thing. Disappointed in my wife for getting me to order this thing, we got rid of our dishwasher for this thing too. When you call them for help they just basically tell you its your fault they dont grow fast enough and its your fault that there is mold growing. Do not recommend not happy with the purchase,.

  2. Hi J,

    First and foremost, we wish to express our regret that you are unhappy with our product, and more importantly that you feel we haven’t provided you with the customer service we pride ourselves on possessing. I am unaware of your previous calls to us, and I would love the chance to speak to you personally about your concerns. We do offer personal 7-days-a-week support to anyone, and you are welcome to call me direct with any questions or for support @ 1-877-352-0490 ext.101, Tarren Wolfe, Founder Urban Cultivator

    To immediately address some of your concerns; however, I did want to stress that we spent a lot of time and put extreme care into the design of our appliance to ensure it worked both efficiently and quietly. We are proud and confident in our design and back it with a full, 3-year warranty on all its parts.

    With regard to the length of time it takes to grow various herbs or micro greens, we do offer a wide selection of 20-30 various seeds with which you can grow 1-3 pounds of fresh greens/flat in as little as 7-10 days. For guidance and support in cultivating and growing your greens you may check out our website page that provides specific growing instructions or feel free to call us and we are happy to walk you through the growing process.

    And with respect to using soil, you do have the option to not use soil and we would be happy to walk you through setting up your cultivator using a soil-free option.

    We have received so much positive feedback and love from the numerous restaurants who have invested and now benefit from the use of an Urban Cultivator. Award winning restaurants such as Yew – Four Seasons – Vancouver, Oru – Fairmont – Pacific Rim – Vancouver, Sidecut Restaurant – Four Seasons – Whistler, Banff Convention Center, etc, etc). These restaurants have provided us with feedback that they can now produce higher quality, higher nutritional value and better tasting greens, which are free from pesticides or other chemicals, to serve to their customers. Another benefit they receive from using an Urban Cultivator – commercial model is lowering their carbon footprint by being able to grow herbs and micro greens in-house, year round. Their maintenance time is approx 30-min a week and to date we haven’t received any negative feedback from the chefs who use our appliance about getting their hands or clothes dirty from planting or handling fresh herbs as it tends to be therapeutic.

    We truly appreciate your feedback and of learning your concerns, and would welcome the opportunity to speak to you or anyone with similar concerns personally.

    Please call us 7-days-a-week at 1-877-352-0490

    Tarren Wolfe,
    Founder, Urban Cultivator