I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about a few topics in the past few years – distributed systems, lowering humanity’s environmental footprint, and also food. None of what I’m about to write is particularly original, nor is it going to change the world – the potential product I’m describing is more oriented towards first-world apartment dwellers. I’m hoping that the idea will start other people thinking about the problem though.
The underlying issue is that our food supply is extremely fragile, and (while affordable in first-world terms) costly. There has been much research into reducing bottlenecks in the food supply chain, as well as well-known programs to encourage people to consume locally produced food.
One solution that has evolved is the idea of a food wall. They’re a form of vertical high density gardening. You can see examples here and here. Some examples are really impressive, and can generate vast amounts of food in a relatively small area. Most of the ones I’ve seen are intended for outdoor use though, and are still labor intensive.
What I had in mind was something oriented towards an urban apartment dweller, with relatively little free time to get involved in gardening (and no outdoor space either).
The concept is to have small stack-able building blocks that can be used to create an indoor food wall.
The blocks would contain controllers (i.e. arduino or something similar) that could be programmed to provide exactly the right amount of water and nutrients for their crops, via an automated drip-irrigation system.
Specialized units for lighting, water and nutrient control etc would also be part of an overall wall installation.
They would also be designed to look attractive (i.e. “hey, nice food wall you’ve got in your dining room”), use minimal resources, create almost no mess, prevent bugs, and produce 30 to 40 different forms of food in a tiny indoor footprint. Not enough to feed a family on its own, perhaps, but a very nice supplement to a health-conscious first-world diet.
You can see what I mean here:
The blocks would be stacked in staggered form to create a wall, so that the individual crops can be accessed easily, and could also benefit from natural light.
For added effect, the entire wall could be IP enabled, so that its owner could check up on their crop status via their phone. Alerts would be generated when specific blocks were ready to be harvested, or if something went wrong.
Ideally, the design for the individual blocks would be open-source, so that people could make them with 3D printers. In addition, a higher-end (and really polished-looking) version would be sold for a relatively low unit price (say $100 per unit, with a total installation cost in the low thousands of dollars).
As I wrote above, nothing really original in this approach, but it could make for a very nice product line that would appeal to people with little space to garden and a desire to eat healthily. If sufficient portions of a given urban population adopted this sort of technique, it would also generally lower their environmental impact by reducing the amount of food that had to be imported from elsewhere.