The Future of Farming: Out of the Dirt and Into the Streets

Here’s a high-tech vision of the urban farms of tomorrow.

Willy Blackmore is TakePart’s Food editor.


“When supply lines get stressed more, when our natural resources get stressed more, you will see a potential war over food.” That’s a widely held sentiment these days; the quote itself comes from Caleb Harper, the founder of CityFARM.

Instead of fighting over limited amounts of arable land and limited amounts of water, Harper wants to move food production out of rural soil and into cities. His CityFARM project, developed at MIT Media Lab in Cambridge, Mass., uses aeroponics and hydroponics—plants grown in air and water, respectively—to make farming possible in small, indoor, urban spaces.

In a video for The Verge’s “Detours” series, Harper says some people out there are suspicious of food grown in a system that, as he says, looks like an old-school supercomputer mainframe. He imagines such a skeptic might say, “This is freaky food, this is super-freaky food, and what did you do with it, because I as a consumer feel like I have been lied to for a long time about my food, and I don’t believe you.” This is part of the reason why CityFARM is all open-source—there’s no subterfuge, no hiding what’s going into the processes behind the plants. You can know as much as you want to know.

Greens, tomatoes, and eggplant, among other vegetables, are being grown in the prototype setup. The idea is to move the production of such produce into an urban environment to free up traditional farmland space and resources for commodity crops. This isn’t about replacing traditional agriculture but augmenting it for the future.

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