Purdue grad wants his invention to reduce food deserts

INDIANAPOLIS - A new appliance for the home could soon get mass produced, allowing owners to grow fresh fruits and vegetables without ever leaving their homes. Scott Massey, the CEO and co-founder of Heliponix has just unveiled his first GroPod, and wants to see it become an appliance to tackle hunger.

A GroPod is a little smaller than a standard dishwasher or oven. It uses hydroponic, or soil-less, technology to grow seed pods, similar to single-serve coffee containers.

“When you buy a pod for it, and you plug it in, your GroPod already knows what you put in," Massey said. "Different plants have different environmental preferences and the unit will find the average temperature, light cycle, humidity for your variety, among many other variables, and give you specifically the best growing conditions based of what you like to eat.”

Massey first worked on self-sufficient plant growing while on a NASA project as a student at Purdue. He has also used hydroponic technology to start farms in the western Africa country of Togo. Today, he has help start one of the largest farm systems in the region, with space at two Togo universities, a co-working space, and at the U.S. Embassy compound.

“One system for $300 can grow about 500 pounds of vegetables, annually," said Massey. "That’s enough to feed a family.”

Massey said once you see a child suffer from malnutrition, it's a difficult image to get out of your head. That's why he wanted to help.

The creator of the GroPod said he'd like to see the appliance come hand-in-hand with federal housing assistance programs. He came up with the idea after an internship on the El Paso, Tex. and Juarez, Mexico border. There he was building Section 8 housing and saw what a food desert can do to people.

The SNAP program could serve as financial assistance to have seed pods mailed to the homes of low-income families.

"The only thing they had was a McDonald's and a convenience store," Massey said. "After time, you just get obese."

Massey unveiled his first finished GroPod Thursday. He's using it as part of a demonstration to people and organizations working to improve food options in the city at the Flanner House. Some investors were also expected to be on hand.

The finished product is being given to his customer later Thursday night. He added he has many more orders in for the appliance.

Massey, who is from Evansville, is discussing selling the invention to a mass producer of kitchen and household appliances. He said he believes his creation could be on shelves everywhere in a little over a year.

“This is designed to be a common appliance that can be integrated into any home," said Massey. "It does not to be plumbed in. It does not need a special outlet. It only requires WIFI and a standard 110-volt outlet.”

Heliponix's progress can be followed here.

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