Edible Innovations: FarmBot Helps Automate Small-Scale Food Production

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Edible Innovations: FarmBot Helps Automate Small-Scale Food Production

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.

As you get ready to prepare your favorite dinner dish, you may find yourself picking up fruit out of season, packaged meat that comes from a different country, and carbohydrates that have been processed in different states. A glance at the average shopping cart raises a few questions. Where does our food come from? How was it produced? In many big chain grocery stores, this answer has become elusive due to the rise of mega farms that create and produce our food by any means necessary.

Rick Carlino and Rory Aronson saw an inherent flaw in this ask-no-questions approach to food, especially in the wake of the growing statistics that proved environmental degradation and lack quality food accessibility. For most shoppers, the location of where their products come from is a mystery. For those unable (or unwilling) to buy food from large chain grocery stores, access to food is often scarce and unreliable.

Carlino and Aronson addressed this growing problem by founding a company called FarmBot.io (@farmbotio), which strives to create open-source, easy to use technology that helps individuals and small scale farms grow food both efficiently and safely. They hope this will take power away from the large corporations who use less than quality food sources to turn high profits. Their first invention, FarmBot Genesis (@FarmBotProject), strives to give power to small-scale food producers, so that they can continue to sustain the communities they serve.

FarmBot is a merge of technology and traditional agriculture. The idea was built from a simple need to meet consumer expectation while keeping local, sustainable, food sourcing and production in mind. Taking control of food production, for these makers, meant fast, forward-thinking technology, and having it as an open source so that many could add to it, and use it in their own farms.

To simplify, FarmBot is a farming machine and software package, with a target audience of small-scale food producers. It is akin to a 3D printer. The hardware allows farmers to create essential tools like seed injectors, watering nozzles, and sensors to be used on both plants and soil.  The technology does not stop there, it is also a design model, in which the food producer can design a farm or garden that best fits their need.

Once they have finished their design they can store their maps and even log the growth and success of the crops in order to make necessary changes, or share with the online community. Because the tech behind FarmBot focuses on collaboration, all of the information is open-source. Carlino and Aronson have developed and grown an online community that welcomes anyone who is interested in modifications, feedback, and questions.

What’s next for our makers over at FarmBot? The progression forward is to create a version of their software that allows it to become a home appliance. Easy to understand, low cost, and accessible to anyone. FarmBot can be as common in the household as a kitchen appliance, like a microwave oven or even a dishwasher. Individual consumers can plan and create their own farms to sustain their families or communities.

Whether they choose to grow vegetables, or herbs, FarmBot can help develop a design with their space requirements and suggest ways to make it successful. Creating community gardens, farms, or even personal food production can now be a successful and dependable way to take back power from mega corporations who own expansive farms. Your grocery cart can be full of local and sustainable food with they help of technology and a dedicated community, much like the one the creators of FarmBot have fostered.

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Chiara is fascinated by food as a means to impact bodies, minds, and environment. She has studied international business in three different countries, and is an alumni of the Food Innovation Program and US Director at the Future Food Institute.

Based in California, she is also a Research Scholar at Food Science and Technology at UC Davis, working on building the first comprehensive Internet of Food to enable food care through food systems semantics. She is a selected member of Barilla Center Food Nutrition Foundation, a Research Affiliate at Institute For The Future, Board Member at Maker Faire and selected member of the Global Shapers, a young global network of innovators promoted by the World Economic Forum.

She is passionate about social entrepreneurship and impact investing, and aims to leave her mark on society.

View more articles by Chiara Cecchini
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