Next level Veggie Patch

You should know that this is actually the lifestyle blog of an engineering student, and I would be blocking out a massive part of my life if I didn’t include my posts with new innovations in the field of mechanical engineering!

In saying that, Chris has recently enlightened me to this project that ties both my interests of healthy cooking and STEM together. DON’T LEAVE ME FOODIES, while this is a technology post I hope that it brings an extra bit of trivia next time you’re in the kitchen or at your favourite café.

How long do you think the period between harvest fruit and marketing it in the supermarket is? I asked this question at the dinner table last night, with the bowl of apples between us. 2 weeks says my mum. 1 month says my dad and I’ve had various responses from my fellow uni friends after asking EVERYONE.

According to Caleb Harper in his TED talk, an apple can stay in storage for up to 11 months before found in your local Coles or Woolworths.

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By now it has lost over 90% of the antioxidants and is now really just a ball of sugar.

I did some research and found that this is LEGIT. A chemical called 1-methylcycloprpene (1-MCP) is used to extend the storage life of fruits and vegetables, particularly apples. However, it also prevents the production of chemical compounds hence reducing the flavour. This product (the primary chemical in SmartFresh) is allowed to be used in over 26 countries and while it is not toxic enough to be prohibited by governing entities, I can’t imagine that it’s too good for you either.

Imagine that time you went to Bali, a beautiful tropical island with the freshest, sweetest fruit you have tasted in your entire life, only to come back to your tiny apartment in central Sydney to buy your apples from Coles which is actually as old as the 1 year old walking toddler next door.

What if you could get fresh Balinese fruit, right here in Sydney without having to take an 8 hr flight to get 4654 km away?

Caleb Harper and his dream team of mechanical engineers, data scientists, nutritionist and many other talented “farmers” have developed a greenhouse where a computer controls its climate – allowing variables such as sweetness, nutritional value and accessibility to be up to you. I’m sure we’ve all gone digging through the box of strawberries and blueberries to find the sweetest one, but by using this technology – that could be avoided altogether.

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The innovation is called an OpenAG Personal Food Computer (PFC). Right now, it seems that the original version still requires advanced coding skills and professional installation to get it up and running and while it is still open sourced, it seems to be a bit of a hassle for your everyday farmer or school kid. While it is still in its initial phases, the team is now designing Version 2 which is “less expensive, easier to build, and easier to maintain”. Upon reading their blog, it seems that they are focusing on growing more exotic plants soon like the lotus and galangal (a root spice like ginger from East and South East Asia).

LETS BLOW THIS UP TO A GLOBAL SCALE.

With what the team calls “climate recipes”, which is a description of all the conditions need to produce a certain foods and is currently open sourced on their website, we can globalise the production of fresh fruit into our very own homes. Rather than shipping all sorts of old fruits and vegetables across oceans, we can share recipes instead, allowing people in their own homes to become farmers themselves. Turns out they weren’t actually the first ones to think of this, and it is namely a branch called hydroponics and is a field growing in developing countries.

Only 3% of the world’s population is catering to the food needs of 7.2 billion world citizens and the number is rapidly decreasing. The world is on the verge of a food crisis and you can already see it in today’s developing communities. One of the major things that I think about is this in the context of humanitarian engineering – could these greenhouses be used in developing nations to reduce the 1 in 4 children in the world whose growth is stunted by malnutrition? #foodforthought

But like a good scientist, you have to be sceptical and sometimes, just sometimes (but especially when you’re close to a breakthrough), you go through this phase of doubting EVERYTHING. I call it, “The stage where you question everything you know and start to wonder whether it’s true.”

The stage where you question everything you know and start to wonder whether it’s true

And how do you complete this stage? You hit Google hard. How does the system generate gases and other control factors? How do they plan on reducing the cost and integrating it into our homes? Does the Food Computer create risks and hazards for the family? Are there any environmental consequences that would make this a short term solution to our global food crisis?

Unfortunately I am still very much in this phase and will continue to be here for a while. Hopefully I will keep you posted.

But in the meantime, for more information, check out their website: http://openag.media.mit.edu/ (which all the photo credit goes to)

And what do you know! They even have their own blog: http://openag.media.mit.edu/blog

Overall, I think that this project is incredibly promising for both fields of nutrition and engineering. Good catch Chris.

Love, Annette

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