By Ben Schiller
We've written before about efforts to close the technology deficit between big and small farming. Now, here comes another promising project. HarvestGeek is an integrated growing system aimed at indoor and greenhouse farmers that stands a good chance of increasing yields, and taking some of the stress out of artisan-scale production. But it needs your help. Mike Alt, the inventor, is currently casting for funding on Kickstarter, and at the moment he's short of his goal. It would be a shame if his prototypes didn't make it out of the nursery.
"The main reason small farms don't exist is because they are uncompetitive," he says. "They don't have access to markets that large farms have. They don't have the subsidies. And they don't have the technology. They are not current in terms of production, because the best stuff is so expensive. It's not realistic for them to use."
The HarvestGeek system is made up of different stations that growers can mix-and-match depending on their needs. There's a base station that connects to the Internet, relaying information like air and water temperature and humidity levels, so that growers can access it remotely. There's a basic sensor unit, with a soil probe, and then a more advanced one with a CO2 reader. There's a station designed for hydroponic growing that senses for pH and nutrient levels. And there's an automation station allowing users to switch on fans, pumps, and heaters according to pre-set threshold levels (you can set the temperature never to fall below 70, for example). HarvestGeek can handle 26 units in all, in any combination, as long as the base station is operating.
Alt has a day job as a software engineer, but has grown mushrooms for several years, selling crops at farmers' markets. He was inspired to start HarvestGeek, because he wanted some way of controlling humidity levels, which are essential for types like shiitake and oyster.
He'll use the Kickstarter funds mostly for manufacturing and certification of the electric wiring. All being well, he should start deliveries in June.
Alt stresses that his designs are just a first cut; the plan is to go open source, so others can improve on them later. "I want other people to create the next best idea for bringing technology to farmers," he says. "Hopefully, we can then challenge industrial agriculture, and make food production more sustainable."
Copyright 2013 by Fast Company. Reprinted with permission.