A new and original look at the future of food has arrived at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab. The project goes by the name CityFARM and is quickly gaining a substantial amount of attention particularly for its willingness to invest, research, and dispel misunderstandings regarding the future of food. It’s located in Cambridge, Massachusetts and being led by its founder, research scientist, Caleb Harper. CityFarm’s mission is plainly stated, “As part of the City Science Initiative at the MIT Media Lab, we explore the technological, environmental, social and economic design of scalable systems capable of producing affordable and high quality food in the hear of our future cities.”
Rethinking and Researching
The research for MIT Media Lab’s new venture is providing fresh input alongside a bevy of eye opening innovative research. It appears that a large part of the agricultural research being conducted is dedicated to awareness of major cultural shifts in schools of thought when it comes to growing food in cityscapes. This is paired with sensitivity to both the environment and growing concerns surrounding resources. According to the primary website for this project, researchers see this shift as less of an option and more of a mandate. At first glance, one might see the project as a group of predominantly eager horticulturalists. However, this team is anything but one dimensional. The diverse team includes architects, engineers, city planners, economists, and of course plant scientists. This group is aiming to take their research and rethinking and transform it into “high performance urban agricultural systems”.
The idea of rethinking agriculture assumes that there are dilemmas facing the industry’s status. CityFarm sees a part of this dilemma as taking a new approach to the current philosophy which is what they have referred to as “grow it there and eat it here.” The proposed position is the transformation of that philosophy towards more of a “grow it here and eat it here” position. Its important to note that this is not a mere conceptual thought, its being practically worked out. The project is utilizing the development of aeroponic, hydroponic, and aquaponic systems and pairing them with control automation. Control automation is playing a vital role in delivery, harvesting, data collection, and reducing energy use. Much like the jump from your favorite flip phone to the smartphone, this may be the introduction of smart farming. Where automation and new technology open discussion to the question of job creation and building up the workforce. CityFarm clearly is developing these concepts with job creation in mind. On the front page of the project’s website, it is openly stated that “By fundamentally rethinking “grow it THERE and eat it HERE” to “grow it HERE and eat it HERE” we will dramatically reduce environmental contamination and depletion while creating jobs for a rapidly urbanizing global workforce and increasing access to diverse and affordable nutrient dense produce in our future cities.”
The Open AG Project
Despite current obstacles commonly found in agriculture research circles, CityFARM founder, Caleb Harper, is not about to keep its work behind closed doors. Its becoming apparent that Harper is making quite the concerted effort towards more easily accessible and transparent agricultural research through the OpenAG project. The idea that the project is rooted in is best explained by the research scientist himself in which he states “together with strategic partners from industry, government and academia to develop the world's first open source "Food Tech" research collective for the creation of the global agricultural data commons” This collective approach was designed with an ideal platform in mind to allow a host of global researchers to “share their data, discuss their findings, and work to advancing the common cause of improving crop yields globally by making all the world’s agriculture information open and accessible”.
What Do You Think About The Future of Food?