Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Urban Farming

Imagine a world in which we could speak to plants. Imagine a world in which you could plug a climate recipe in and grow a plant. Imagine a world in which we could send plant information internationally instead of actual plants. Caleb Harper, a research scientist at MIT’s media lab and the founder of the CityFARM research group, envisioned a world just like this one and has actually been successful in making it a reality!

Caleb Harper got his bachelor’s degree from Washington University in St. Louis and his master’s degree from MIT. He is a consultant to many development agencies that work on low income housing projects. He has also worked on development projects in the high tech space industry, including health care.
Caleb saw that in the world, we could not balance having too much food, or too little food, or GMO’s that help, or GMO’s that hurt. He asked himself, “What if climate was democratic? What if each country had its own productive climate, what would that change about quality of life and nutrition?” He saw a problem with the way that the world operated with regards to agriculture and food production and decided to solve the problem. He decided to build a digital farm and send food through particles in the air. This way, people didn’t need to wait for their groceries to be picked from some far around the world and then get stuffed with preservatives to last the journey, people could have fresh groceries in the house in just a day. He also saw that farming was not a very attractive field to go into as an occupation, and many young people did not want to take up farming. To combat this pattern, he realized that making it more technological would attract the younger population.

Caleb saw a problem and used his creativity to think outside of the box to come up with a solution, and even the scientists in his field saw how amazing his ideas were.

He set out to build a farm in a digital media lab and succeeded in doing so. His farm was enough to feed about 300 people and could be harvested once a month. He saw that when plants were grown in a malign climate to their growth, they would turn sweet to protect themselves. This showed how much climate had an impact on the plants. In this digital farm, Caleb was coding climates to express nutrition, shape, color, and texture of a plant. He had IP addresses of each of his plants, and each came with a profile. This profile showed downloadable progress of each plant, and any problems it was having, such as too much water or too much sun. With this new technology, plants could essentially talk to the farmer.
He made a computer database that operated kind of like a game where kids could try out different types of environments and grow different types of plants. This was the first time some of these kids had even thought about farming as a profession or farming at all.

Ultimately, Caleb’s goal is to be able to put climate recipes that people, with their own personal food computers, can pull up and grow in their house. We could send information about food instead of actual food to make it healthier.
A Food Computer
Building a digital farm in urban settings is a concept that I never thought was even possible. Sending food particles digitally was never something I thought would be achieved! Caleb, however, was really creative in that he saw a problem with the way food was being produced and created a digital farm and revolutionized the farming industry.  Simonton describes a creative idea as “having the joint properties of novelty or originality and utility and usefulness,” and I think this describes Caleb’s idea of an urban farm (Simonton, 494). His idea is original, no one has successfully achieved an urban farm that programs food, and it is useful, in that it’ll make food healthier and farming a more attractive occupation for youth.
Here is the link to the TED talk he gave:


  1. Thank you for posting! In the coming decades, as our population continues to grow, we are going to struggle to feed everyone on earth. We must come up with innovate and creative ways to produce food and I think this food computer is a great step towards alternative food production. In your opinion, how will this food computer be utilized as a mechanism to feed our growing problem? What role will it play?

  2. Wow! This is SO interesting! I was confused by "send food through particles in the air" and "sending food particles digitally" until I realized it's actually sending information to grow plants, not literal plant particles. It's just using a computer to control a climate, like a greenhouse, and grow food. I watched the TED Talk and was shocked that the average age of an apple in a US grocery store is 11 months. Being able to control the climate and grow food wherever-and grow it more precisely-will be so beneficial. It will work so much better than shipping food, which makes it age and lose nutritional value. It's great that he made this open-source code so others can do so. This is an amazing TED Talk and definitely creative. He saw the problem of young people not being interested in farming and found a solution by making it more digital and appealing. I love that he's brought it into elementary schools. That reminds me of another TED Talk I saw:
    Thanks for sharing, Mimi!

  3. This was a really interesting topic! Thank you for sharing it! I love seeing how creativity can take the form of reinventing something in a new and innovative way. Farming has been a staple of our daily lives for thousands of years, and yet in this new and technologically advanced world, we are becoming more and more distanced from the food that we eat and the process of growing it. I love that Caleb showed that technological advances and the age-old traditions of farming are not mutually exclusive. It reminds us to be more connected to what we are eating and what sustains us, and along the way solves a plethora of other problems- such as food distribution and environmental issues. Great post!

  4. This post is amazing. I never knew someone could be so creative in envisioning a new world by using plants in a unique way. I think it is completely creative when he decided to send plant information in the form of plants to other places. We are living in a world where the number of plants being destroyed is unreal and dangerous of the future generations. The sad part is that most people are just completely lazy to just get up and plant the trees. However, if his methods and his visions come to life, it would leave those people without an excuse. I love that he recognized the love of technology in the new generation to help the Earth grow healthy again. Back in the days, I remember my mom saying, "Next we will have a computer growing food." Although she said that as a joke, it is finally coming true!


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