From Singapore to the USA and all around Europe, Edible Innovations profiles food makers that engage in improving the global food system at every stage, from production to distribution to eating and shopping. Join us as we explore the main trends in the industry from a maker perspective. Chiara Cecchini of Food Innovation Program — an ecosystem with a strong educational core that promotes food innovation as a key tool to tackle the great challenges of the future — introduces you to the faces, stories, and experiences of food makers around the globe. Check back on Tuesdays and Thursdays for new installments.
Today we have the chance to sit down with a remarkable, eager-to-share Maker Pro: Elaine Kung. Elaine is a New Yorker and environmental engineer who graduated from the MIT Media Lab, where she was involved in the first stages of the Open Ag project. She combines a scientific background with an art education, which already makes her an extremely appealing profile. Interested in indoor farming and passioned about the open source movement, she describes her two main passions as education and accessibility.
The project Elaine is now working on is called +farm: a DIY, open source, modular hydroponic vertical farm that enables everyone to build a small farm at home. After MIT, she spent some time in developing countries, working on agriculture. Once back, she realized she wanted to put her hands on a new, entrepreneurial project. “We are really trying to focus on people who are getting interested in this industry but they don’t know where to start,” says Elaine. “If you are interested in growing something at home, there are tons of different instructions available online: everyone is sharing DIY farming projects, tutorials and to-do lists are confusingly everywhere, but starting from scratch is tough. You don’t know anything about the industry, where to buy pieces, which products to use, nothing. We are building the place to go when you are at this stage. We created +farm for filling this gap: enabling brand new indoor farmers to have a direction to follow and explore.”
Furthermore, +farm targets schools as a tool to teach science and math while exploring the food space with an hands-on approach.
But, why is there a need to focus on vertical farming? And why is it necessary to democratize it?
Well, there are numerous benefits to vertical farming: freshest produces available, less transportation miles, water savings, limited or no pesticides, 365 days a year of growing high quality food that meets all safety standards. The main limits are come from the necessary expensive farming equipment and the overcrowding of information. All of the products to build the +farm can be purchased at various retailers (i.e. Amazon, Home Depot, Grower’s House). Going form zero to be a “Pro Farmer” is far easier and cheaper than it used to be.
+farm has three different models. Regardless of the configuration chosen, each of them has lights, shelving, plumbing, and other necessary equipment. One of the next steps for the project is to integrate Arduino: “We want to give makers the opportunity to incorporate their automations and sensors in their +farm,” Elaine says.
Elaine is a great example of someone who is following personal passion to make what she likes real and sharable. Along her journey, she is feeling increasingly more “entrepreneur,” which she describes as fulfilling and empowering. She is realizing the importance of user-centered design, as well as the power of online communication and social media for business purposes. The lesson here is that making is a path that allows each of us to evolve as human beings, to be willing to share and to understand the power of resources we have available.