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Hydroponic Farming

Creating a modular and scalable vertical farming hydroponics system using Nike Grind materials to make fresh food more accessible.

Photo of jamie jenkins
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As of today the vast majority of food is grown, harvested, and processed far away from the people who eat it. All of this food has to be transported to consumers by methods that are expensive and harmful to the environment. The additional costs of transportation make fresh foods less affordable for those who live near or under the poverty line, forcing them to choose cheaper, unhealthier options. Having direct and local access to fresh foods can drastically lower the cost to the environment, strengthen the community, and lower the barrier to eating healthily and eating responsibly. We believe by making vertical farming hydroponic systems with Nike Grind materials we can help fresh foods be more accessible and be a part of a circular economy. 

Vertical farming hydroponic systems are especially well-adapted for use in urbanized areas. They are extremely efficient and produce more food than soil-based gardens in a given amount of space. Plants can be grown pesticide-free and with only a fraction of the water used in conventional farming. Furthermore, hydroponic systems are versatile and can be tailored for use in a wide variety of situations. These systems can be implemented in cities, industrial settings, community gardens, and even places without access to electricity. Hydroponics allow for the maximum utilization of spaces within buildings and also provide the added benefit of introducing plants and greenery into the urban environment.

Our idea is to use Nike Grind materials to build modular hydroponic units that can be combined into different configurations that will appeal to hobbyists, architects, communities, industrial food producers, and any company or organization committed to sustainability and a self-sufficient society. We propose that this system be used on a small scale with individual units and a large scale with facilities made up of clusters of these units. Our design will use as many of the recycled materials as possible, and will provide healthy, locally grown food to communities.

Although we are in the early stages of development, we have an idea of what these units might look like, how they could function, and some dreams of where they could be headed. Provided here are some examples of how we envision this system being implemented and scaled beyond its initial stages.

More and more people are moving in cities, not only in America, but across the world. To ensure that cities have the resources and infrastructure to accommodate an influx in population, we must begin brainstorming, planning, and designing systems which increase agricultural efficiency and energy conservation. We believe our hydroponic units can play a role in this preparation.

By expanding our hydroponic unit’s footprint and depth we can create a urban tree planter. The planter would be filled with a large amount of Nike Grind material and water wicked or pumped from a reservoir system installed below the unit. These planters would take advantage of hydroponics’ low water and energy usage and allow greenery to be efficiently integrated into our cities. 

Cities such as Singapore are already beginning to assimilate gardens into their architecture. But, unlike more northern cities, Singapore enjoys a year long growing season that allows their vertical farms to flourish. We hope to design a multifunctional hydroponic system that allows gardens to thrive during the growing months and takes on other uses as the days become shorter and the weather grows colder. Imagine a rooftop garden that for half the year is used by locals as a supplemental food source, then converted to additional rooftop insulation. To achieve this we would design our units to be foldable. While functioning as hydroponic units the growing beds would function as walled containers. During the colder months these containers would unfold, increase in area, and cover the roof with an additional layer of insulation. 

Yet another potential application is use in a fast-growing industry: medical marijuana. States across America and countries around the world are legalizing the use of medical marijuana; because new uses for marijuana are constantly being discovered and prescription opiates are becoming an increasingly sinister agent of addiction, this trend is likely to continue. Medical marijuana is a nascent industry with many young and environmentally conscientious leaders. Because our units are highly modular, they could be configured to meet the requirements of both the horticulturist and the law. By offering a stacked arrangement we could increase the grower’s ability to raise plants despite limited access to space. Capital is flowing into this industry and we believe medical marijuana businesses could become one of our primary markets and sources of financial support.

Company / Organization Name (if applicable)

California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo

Which Nike Grind materials will your idea utilize?

  • Rubber Outsoles
  • Rubber Flashings
  • Rubber Granulate
  • EVA Foam Injection Scraps
  • EVA Foam Flashings
  • EVA Foam Sheets & Blocks
  • EVA Foam Components
  • Laminated EVA Foam
  • Laminated PU Foam
  • Footwear Fiber "Fluff"

How specifically will these materials be incorporated into your solution?

Our plan is to use the rubber outsoles, flashings, and granulate to create the shell for our hydroponics units. The substrate in each unit could be made from an amalgamation of all the lighter materials available to us. We would likely start by reshaping Nike Grind material into rubber sheets which would form the structural component and shell of the hydroponics unit. This would make the outside shell somewhat flexible, increasing durability and ease of use. Some extra support pieces not made of Nike Grind Material would likely be needed within this shell to provide some rigidity to the design. Inside of the unit, granulate materials that have been processed to be more standard in size, shape, and composition, would be used to form a substrate within which the plants could grow. The specific composition of the substrate can be adjusted to suit different hydroponic systems. For example, a wicking system’s substrate would need to be made up of water absorbent materials while the substrate for a drip system could be selected more for its ability to effectively drain moisture. For Nutrient Film designs, an additional sheet of rubber, perforated with equally spaced holes, would be used as the top of unit's shell. The plants would rest in the upper sheet's holes and their roots would grow downward into the unit to soak up nutrients from a flowing supply of nutrient water. Between the unit's shell and substrate, we would be able to repurpose large amounts of various Nike Grind materials.

Please include a visual (can be either 2D or 3D) representation/prototype of your concept. (required)

What is the current stage of development of your idea?

  • Research & Early Testing

Describe your target market. Who will benefit from your product?

We hope to benefit individuals, families, communities, and larger organizations in creating long-term, sustainable access to healthy food and other crops over which they have direct control. This will have enormous benefits as it will provide inexpensive and reliable access to healthy food sources to those who lack that access because of their geographic location or their financial circumstances.

How will you scale your idea? Please describe in detail your plan to scale your concept.

We have designed this system to be, at its core, modular and flexible. This modular functionality will allow for ease of scalability. The core component of our proposal is a hydroponics unit that can be used to grow and cultivate crops. These units can be used on their own or can be combined with additional units and other systems. This will allow us to scale quite easily once a design is finalized as our ability to expand production will rely solely on our ability to produce these base units.

How is your idea innovative?

The concept of hydroponics has been around for a long time and several companies today are working to bring this technology into urban environments. Our efforts to integrate hydroponics and food cultivation into urban lifestyles does not focus purely on industrial-scale activities, but also at the individual and community level. By designing a system that can be used on any scale, from one unit all the way to dozens—even hundreds—of units being active at a time.

What inspired this idea?

We began our ideation by considering the problems faced in the modern world by both society and individuals. We considered a variety of concepts, but making a hydroponics system rose to the top. We saw other ideas that were similar, but we believe that our proposal is unique in its ability to grow.

Tell us about yourself and your team. What is your background and experience?

We are a group of passionate students at California Polytechnic State University of San Luis Obispo who are working hard to come up with a design and application for Nike Grind materials as part of a class project.

In what city are you located?

San Luis Obispo

In what country are you located?


Please describe how becoming a Top Idea will support the growth of your concept.

If our proposal became a top idea, we will have the ability to reach out to those we hope to impact the most. We’ll contact urban community leaders around the U.S. living in areas that do not have easy access to fresh foods. We will want to know what struggles they’ve had and what obstacles they’ve faced if they’ve undertaken a similar project in the past. We’ll also want to talk to industry professionals to better understand the challenges of scaling our system to fit the needs of larger buyers

1 comment

Join the conversation:

Photo of Lauren Ito

Hi jamie jenkins and the Hydroponic Farming team,

Great to see you in the Challenge! Could you please provide more content for the submission question, "How specifically will these materials be incorporated into your solution?" How might you begin to turn the raw Nike Grind materials into your final product? What might that process look like step-by-step? How might you begin the prototyping process?

With the deadline fast-approaching at 5:00 p.m. Pacific Time, please ensure all of your final updates are completed by then.

Excited to learn more!