CityFARM Builds Steam as Media and Industry Take Notice

Caleb Harper, a research scientist in MIT's Media Lab, and his work with "CityFARM" are attracting the attention of media and industry alike, with coverage by numerous news outlets as well as a partnership with retailer, Target.

CityFARM, (now the new "MIT Open Agriculture Initiative"), explores ways to computerize the growing of food to optimize factors such as nutrition, taste or production. By monitoring up to 30 environmental variables, they and teams of students throughout Boston, are developing "digital recipes" to share with others.

"The goal is to make this open-source," said Harper in an interview with Popular Science. "Imagine a Wikipedia full of “climate recipe” files that people can upload and download. Let’s say I’ve grown some really good broccoli and I upload a digital recipe for how to grow it. You might see “Caleb’s broccoli” online, download that digital recipe to the plant box in your house, and put a broccoli seed in. You’ll have almost 100 percent success in growing broccoli that has the same characteristics mine had."

These experiments have far-reaching applications, from providing food for arid nations to space colonization. This has led to a collaboration between the Media Lab, Target, and Boston-based consulting firm, IDEO.

In January, Target and IDEO will launch the Food + Future coLAB in Cambridge, Mass. The coLAB will draw on innovative research being conducted at the MIT Media Lab.

“By combining the boundless curiosity and discovery of MIT’s Media Lab and IDEO’s human-centered approach to design with Target’s knowledge of retail, we can reimagine the future of food,” said Greg Shewmaker, one of Target’s Entrepreneurs-in-Residence, who is leading the Food + Future coLAB.

You can read more about Caleb and his research, in several places:

In Popular Science: What are You Doing for Thanksgiving?: Caleb Harper

In National Geographic: 2015 Emerging Explorers

In Wired: In the Future, Even Broccoli will have an IP address

In Fast Company: At MIT, a Farm Grows that is Built for a City

In Fortune: Target to partner with MIT on city farming, other food science projects

In NextCity: No Sun, No Soil, No Problem: Eat an Indoor Farm Salad