A multidisciplinary team of engineers, architects, urban planners, economists and plant scientists at MIT aim to shift traditional farming from the distributed, water and energy-intense practices of the present to a high-performing, affordable, urban agricultural system with the potential to feed many people. The MIT CityFARM team has already grown produce like lettuce and tomatoes, using innovative hydroponic, aquaponic and aeroponicproduction systems. Coupled with new diagnostic, sensing, automated and autonomous delivery and harvest systems, their process has the potential to cut water use for agriculture by 98%, "eliminate chemical fertilizers and pesticides, double nutrient densities and reduce embodied energy in produce by a factor of ten". Among the benefits of the MIT CityFARM system is a faster crop growing time--about 3-4x faster. A head of lettuce that may mature in 100 days takes 15–20 days to grow in the lab.
Grow it HERE and eat it HERE
The Urban Agriculture Facade at the MIT Media Lab
The push for locally-grown food is not new. But the team at MIT is different in that they are thinking about the dramatic shift that could occur if urban farms scale using their research. Growing and consuming local food, on a large-scale, could dramatically cut air pollution from transportation, fertilizer runoff, and nutrient depletion from the soil in remote farms, while creating jobs for a growing urban workforce. The team is combining their findings with architectural, light and space research to see how these urban farming systems can integrate into existing cityscapes through the Urban Agriculture Facade. With the high costs associated with urban real estate, they are curious to see if existing and underutilized buildings can become the hubs of a new urban farming movement that provides food access to future cities.
Open AG Project
Because getting access to agricultural information is difficult, the team plans to create an open platform that allows researchers from around the world to collaborate, share data, insights and work together to improve crop yields. The Open Agriculture project just launched and is looking for strategic partners for the first open source agricultural technology research collective.
Originally published 10/4/2014 on OTNE.