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Food Computers


Touch the Soil News #264

Caleb Harper, a research scientist and MIT is another example of folks and technology looking to re-invent farming and food. Harper is the inventor of the Food Computer. The food computer is an idea, about taking a greenhouse and putting a computer on the side. The computer will hold the information necessary to create climates best suited for different plants.

The computer has a box that can recreate a specific environment. For example, let’s say we want to recreate the climate of Mexico that is perfect for raising strawberries. The computer becomes like a library that has detailed data of many different climates in its memory. So the computer recreates the climate of Mexico in the box and creates a perfect plant (environment) recipe.

Caleb Harper of MIT working on the food computer (Photo courtesy of MIT)


So, if you are living in Boston, and want great strawberries, the computer pulls up the information on the Mexico climate (a good climate for strawberries) and reproduces it in the box/greenhouse. By avoiding the changes in weather – which puts stress on the plant as it reacts and adjusts (often reducing yields) – the perfect plant environment is sustained for production.

With the perfect climate conditions, plants develop three to four times faster than in the natural world. Lettuce that might take 60-90 days to fully develop in the outside world, might take 15 to 17 days with the aid of the food computer. By controlling the water, the computer achieves 50 to 70 percent less water usage.

The bigger vision is to grow food where it is consumed without chemicals, no long distance transport and less waste. The food computer utilizes an aeroponic system that is soil-less. A water solution that contains nutrients is sprayed on the roots of the plant to provide water and nutrition. The only remaining question that arises is do we know all of the nutrients that plants uptake from the soil and can we put them in a water-soluble form? With a number of hydroponic and aeroponic enterprises moving into commercial use, we will learn a lot more.

Following is a video that features Caleb Harper at MIT as he explains and shows the ins and outs of the food computer.

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