Modern Farmer: So what exactly are the Fairmount Living Tiles?
Mario Gentile: We set upon designing a DIY made-within-Philadelphia green roof kit. It’s four aluminum trays that come flat-packed, and you fold them together. There are rubber feet underneath, so the planter is off the roof and allows for ventilation and water drainage. We use a lightweight specially engineered soil, and we work with a local coffee roaster called La Colombe to contain the soil in their recycled coffee bean bags. We use local labor to assemble the kits for us and to sew our up-cycled coffee bean bags into sacks that can be used the kits.
MF: What types of things do you expect will be planted in them?
MG: People are planting vegetables in some of our prototypes; they’re growing some lettuces, some peppers, some strawberries and a whole host of herbs, along with sedums and some small grasses as well. And then at Urban Outfitters, we did a pilot project where they had the eight inch deep and the sixteen inch deep [version of the plater], we were getting some really impressive four or five foot native grasses — native plants are what we focus on. We want to make sure that we’re able to create an environment to bring back native plants within an urban area.
Fairmount Living Tiles on the green roof of an Urban Outfitters Navy Yard building.
MF: What type of people do you expect will purchase the boxes?
MG: We’re looking for urban dwellers, but we’re also trying to sell this as a product — not necessarily as a system, but more as a product where you can go into a local garden center or even a design shop, and you can basically buy these right off the shelf. We’re trying to get this out to anybody and everybody that wants to have a green roof, but we’re trying to go the consumer route as opposed to trying to go through an architect or a designer or a specialized contractor to do this.
MF: And what do you plan to do with your Kickstarter funds?
MG: We want to redesign our packaging. Right now we’re retro fitting pizza boxes. We’re taking plain recycled pizza boxes, and we’re packaging them like this, but it’s not incredibly successful. What we want to use from the Kickstarter funds is to have a package that can go into retail stores work as a stand-alone.
Fairmount Living tiles in the parking lot next to the Shift Space office building.
MF: And what has the biggest challenge been for you all?
MG: Trying to get the word out. We’re a small design firm. We have what we think is a really good DIY product, and nobody else is really trying to get green roofs or smaller farming kits out there. Now it’s just about getting the word out, so marketing is probably our biggest challenge.
MF: What is your ultimate goal with the Fairmount Tiles?
MG: We would love for people who don’t have a garden, for people with a concrete backyard or a balcony or a rooftop or a deck, to be like, ‘Hey, we want to plant a garden – we want to plant some fruits and vegetables.’