Anyone who has done as little as dabble with a houseplant understands just how difficult it can be to predict from one day to the next what it really needs. Even the most accomplished gardeners will tell you that they’ve killed nearly as many tomatoes and squash as they’ve helped thrive, despite their best efforts.
Part of that is a lack of skill and knowledge at the time, and part of it is the unpredictable nature of the environment. But the inspiring minds at MIT are seeking to change all that through Big Data. When one person succeeds at growing food, the data collected serves to help urban and rural farmers alike around the world.
The MIT Open Agricultural Initiative
The problem: providing enough food economically to feed a growing population.
The solution: working together and sharing knowledge.
Open Agriculture Initiative, or OpenAG, is working toward harvesting big data about growing “that enables and promotes transparency, networked experimentation, education, and local production.” That’s a big goal, but then again this is MIT.
By developing an open-source hardware and software platform for anyone to use (the more the better, really), people in urban locations close to home and rural spaces across the globe can benefit equally from the experiments, successes and even the failures of every participant.
These Food Computers are designed for innovation and experimentation, says OpenAG. When one farmer succeeds at growing and harvesting food, the data that’s collected is available to everyone else. It creates a “climate recipe,” which researchers hope will help everyone grow fresh food anywhere, be it on a farm or in an urban hydroponic growing system.
Watch MIT Media Lab’s research scientist, Caleb Harper, talk about his vision in this Ted Talk:
Why OpenAg Matters
In most of the world, fresh food is grown in one place and shipped to another. To prevent spoilage, it’s placed in cold storage. But what you might not know, and Harper explains, is that this method of storage robs the food of nearly all its nutrients. For example, according to his estimation, as much as 90 percent of an apple’s nutrients are gone once it reaches the market, all because of the type of cold storage used.
Food needs to be grown closer to home, but not every location in the world is made for it. But with OpenAG, users can not just learn from each other’s successes, they can use the data to program an ultimate climate for growing no matter where they are. If farmers in Washington State have the greatest success with growing delicious apples, all the data collected from the Washington farmer’s success are shared.
Using the data that’s collected from the Food Computer, every user can program the perfect climate for growing the same kind of apples no matter where they happen to be, right in their own hydroponic growing lab. Imagine a fresh Macintosh plucked off the tree in a part of the world that has never had a fresh-grown apple before.
OpenAG is different from ordinary indoor growing because it uses Big Data to replicate ideal climate conditions. It helps create something that’s not just a growing room, but a carefully plotted growing environment that’s based on what worked best someplace else.
This revolutionary experiment could change the way that people in all parts of the world get fresh food. And it will also make you think twice at that beautiful, perfect, and potentially nutrient deficient fruit at the grocery store.
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