The Future of Farming Is Digital

© Mike Mackinven / Getty Images

By Gillie Houston Posted May 26, 2016

That's what a team of researchers at MIT thinks.

Could computers be the modern solution to the problems associated with one of the world's most ancient tasks? The minds at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab think so. The Media Lab's Open Agriculture—or OpenAg—Initiative aims to equip every citizen with computers that can control the environment in soil-free growing chambers, eventually creating a global network of farmers who can save, download, and replicate planting formulas from various climates around the world. Think: Facebook meets Pinterest meets sunlight, and seeds.

The MIT Media Lab, a team made up by some of the top engineers, economists, architects, scientists, and urban planners, set out to answer one question: why import food from across the world, when you could import the climate that the food was grown in instead?

This concept was born when OpenAg Initiative founder/director Caleb Harper took a trip to Japan shortly after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, Food Tank reports. At the time, outdoor farming was threatened by toxic land and an unpredictable outdoor environment. He set out to determine if there was a way to replicate and control an environment indoors in order to produce safe, unpolluted food.

The OpenAg team developed the Food Computer, which acts as the controller of the entire digital farm, using soil-less technology ("like hydroponics and aeroponics") to control the contained climate. Elements like temperature, humidity, hydrogen, dissolved oxygen and carbon dioxide are all regulated by the computer in order to craft unique "climate recipes." These recipes are a set of conditions that produce plants with certain qualities—size, texture, nutrient density, etc.—to be easily replicated by other growers across the world.

Kids are already using the first Food Computers in Boston area schools. Next, OpenAg hopes to develop a Food Server and Food Datacenter, which will be hubs for research and industry-scale production.

The beta version of the Food Computer software and hardware is available now on the OpenAg website.

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