Q&A with Rebel Earth

Written by Kajsa IngelssonApril 12, 2018

I’m blessed to have a wonderful mother who supports me in every way she can. She is also a good role model, being vegan and sustainable with a heart of pure gold. Tack för allt mamma! One of ways she supports our mission is to send me insta pics of people of interest. This is how I came across REBEL EARTH.

It’s a company on a mission with a very chic product that is combating climate change + it holds the power to bring the power back to communities and change the world! I’m so excited for this interview so let’s dive into it.

Tell us about your mission! How was this whole idea born.

We wanted to start building our own food supply off the grid, and found that with Cape Town’s drought, poor soil, high winds and intense summer sun, this is hard to do with conventional gardening.  We developed the EarthPod to protect growing plants, while reducing water consumption to around 25 litres per week and being very easy to maintain and using its own, curated selection of soils and natural fertilizers.  One EarthPod generates a meaningful amount of food;  two or three can make a huge contribution to sustaining a whole family.

How is this sustainable? Tell us about the waste and energy use please 🙂

The EathPod consumes very little water – about 20% of that used by conventional farms to produce the same amount of food.  It has no direct energy input unless you count sunshine.  Waste is mostly biomass that we can compost in order to re-use the nutrients.  Breaking up an EarthPod will yield re-usable soil; and wood that can be re-purposed, chipped for use as mulch, or burnt as fuel.

A small amount of recyclable material can be recovered from pipes, screws and fastenings.  All components can be used for years before disposal; and are traceable and clearly identifiable.  In short, the conscious use of an EarthPod should generate zero waste-to-landfill over its entire lifecycle.

Perhaps most importantly, the EarthPod is intended for use without any toxic chemicals whatsoever. Conventional farming depends on extremely toxic pesticides to control insects, fungi and weeds:  this has been proved to reduce insect and bird populations to critically low levels in recent studies in France and Germany.  Pest control in an EarthPod is achieved partly by the closed hoop tunnel that protects the growing plants, and partly though carefully designed proportions that allow users to fuss over plants by hand without much effort.  The only pest removers we use are food-grade diatomaceous earth and vinegar.  We also use ladybirds as helpful predators.  We believe that environmental footprint of an EarthPod is the lowest of any food production method.

What can you do with an EarthPod that you can’t necessarily do with traditional farming?

Grow food on your doorstep.  This means you know exactly how it has been grown, and can enjoy the taste of food that is fresh-this-minute (instead of food that has been kept in a chilled supply chain for a day or two).  You also generate fewer food miles, and make use of urban space for food production, which helps to reduce the encroachment of food production onto previously wild landscapes.

Can EarthPods be used in city environments or other more populated areas other than the suburbs?

Yes.  We have installed them in apartments and townhouses, and they can also be adopted for restaurants and retail spaces.   They can be used on balconies and rooftops as well as directly on the ground.

What services does Rebel Earth offer in addition to selling a product- the EarthPod?

We also service the EarthPods.  Many users find EarthPods easy enough to maintain themselves, but for busy people, we can make an EarthPod like a self-filling larder:  just take the food out when you want it, and we will keep it stocked.

This is all so very exciting! How do you see EarthPods scaling up this year? Do you plan to make them available in other cities or countries?

For users further afield, we provide kits and installation guides.  We presently have EarthPods in three SA provinces, and we did our first overseas shipment this year, to France.  The French really care about their food.

Are there any existing businesses that grow all of their produce using an EarthPod?

Three Cape Town restaurants use produce from our sites in Kalk Bay and Constantia.  We are in discussion with a Cape Town CBD restaurant that is considering a large rooftop installation to provide pretty much all of their herbs and salads.  For a restaurant, an EarthPod is a very visible sign of commitment to fresh, quality food ingredients, and also can reduce input costs and inventory requirements (just pick what you need when you need it).  Potentially, an EarthPod farm could generate footfall and margins for an organic food retailer.

For the people who have little experience farming or with the cultivation process – can an EarthPod be used by beginners?

Absolutely.  The user manual is two sides of A4, printed in big letters.  We designed the EarthPod with the goal of making off-the-grid food easier than a supermarket visit.  For owners with no intention of doing anything with food other than eating it, we can also service the EarthPods for you.

What is the process of installing an EarthPod like? Does it require a multi-day procedure or is it a self-managed unit?

Most installations take three to four hours for a wooden EarthPod.  We hand over a fully-working EarthPod, including the plants.  If you want a screeded EarthPod matched to the colour of your house, it will take us three mornings.

Wow. I really think that you have given birth to such an amazing idea! Last question, do you think in time, EarthPods could accommodate larger plant life like for example, trees or endangered species?

EarthPods are suitable for pretty much any type of plant, so as a way of nurturing endangered species they would work very well.  We already  use heirloom varieties, partly because they are more interesting, and partly because this is a contribution to biodiversity.  An EarthPod would be a good place to start a tree growing, but we would generally recommend transplanting a tree into the ground when it got to a suitable scale:  trees mine nutrients deep underground, and most species like to develop extensive root systems over many square metres.

Thank you so much to you Rebel Cape Town and good luck on all your future and present ventures!