Growing More Food With IoT

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To grow more food, sometimes it helps to think outside-the-box, and inside a shipping container !

Farm-from-a-Box is a SF based social enterprise with an innovative approach to help struggling communities grow their own food. A shipping container is modified with solar panels, drip irrigation and IoT sensors into a self contained unit that works off the grid to grow food and provide other essential services in remote areas. The first system is currently being piloted in Sonoma before a broader roll out to other sites in Africa. To see how you might be able to help, read on.

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Scott Thompson and Brandi DeCarli developed Farm-From-A-Box  to help remote communities in need (such as relief centers) become self-sufficient and boost their local economy through sustainable farming. Shipping in food for humanitarian relief is often an essential short term solution, but doesn’t do much to build the local economy in the long run. But how do you grow crops in harsh conditions where there are few roads and no electricity? 

This turnkey solution is based on sturdy, affordable shipping containers that are easy to transport and can run off the grid. It includes built-in solar panels, batteries, water pumps, drip irrigation, internet connectivity and control systems. The container becomes a farm building and also serves power, clean water and internet connectivity to the local community. Remote IoT (internet of things) monitoring and management are a key part of the design as the units are designed to work in remote locations with few local skills.Video on how the system works.  Some of its potential applications :

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– Humanitarian Aid                    – Community cooperatives
– Refugee camps                          – Post-crisis rebuilding efforts

Current Design
In order to grow crops in harsh conditions, the unit incorporates specialized components from around the world including Israeli drip irrigation systems and German water pumps. Sensor data plays a critical role to both determine the growing and irrigation cycles as well as remotely manage the unit. Some components include :
– 10 Trina Solar Panels producing 3000 watts of energy
 Grundfos SQF-7 pumping up to 8,000 gallons of water per day 
– Water filtration system producing 17 gallons per hour 
– 12V Trojan battery capable of storing 265 hours of energy
– 1500 watt backup generator
– Solar-powered Netafim micro-drip irrigation

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What’s next ?
Farm-from-a-Box is now accepting pro-bono IoT advice, equipment donations and sponsorship to further refine the system. For partners it is a great way to support a worthy cause while at the same time applying their skills and technology to solve an urgent challenge. Donations are tax-deductible through their non-profit division Tackle Box Lab. 

Some of the areas Scott and Brandi are considering to refine are :
1. How better analytics and reporting on water consumption, seasonal weather patterns  and other parameters could be used to optimize performance.
2.  How could the amount of sensor data that needs to be transmitted be minimized as bandwidth is expensive in many of the locations to be served ? Possibly through a ‘fog computing’ ?
3. How to incorporate remote management of devices such as water pumps. Possibly through a SCADA interface ?
4. How the solution could be enhanced to serve the community better by adding more services such as refrigeration, payment systems and health monitoring.

 

As Jonathon Swift wrote in Gulliver’s Travels, “whoever could make two ears of corn, or two blades of grass, to grow upon a spot of ground where only one grew before, would deserve better of mankind, and do more essential service to his country”.

To see how you can volunteer your IoT expertise, technology or sponsorship to support a worthy cause, click here.

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Author: Deepak Puri

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