Farm to Plate in 20sec – technological Revolution of Urban Farming

Sherry Lee

A few days ago I came across an interesting article on Linkedin, “Microsoft’s Ingredient Revolution is Feeding its Employees Using High-Tech Vertical Farming”, featuring an interview of Mark and Jessica of the Microsoft Global Dining Services and Urban Farming. You have read it correct; this is Microsoft that markets in information technology. How did they become local farming and nutritionist innovators?

Check out three key features of their program:

“The Misfit Produce Rescue”

At their Redmond campus near Seattle, Washington,  the company partners with local farmers to recover 40% of the crops that would have had been discarded because they do not match up to the beauty standards of the grocery stores or food markets. These foods are used in soups or stir fries at the company cafeteria, at the same nutritional value as their more “beautiful” siblings!

A growingly popular strategy in business, this partnership essentially reduces the running cost of the company auxiliary and helps to encourage local organic farming by increasing their revenues! This food sourcing initiative also set off the following program at Microsoft.

“Vertical Farming”

With experts dedicated to support the program, the urban farm grew from just five vertical towers at the start, to currently 7000 heads of lettuce at any given time, and 2000 pounds of a variety of microgreens annually!

Microgreens are baby salad vegetables similar to sprouts but grown in the soil. Their growth condition tends discourage Salmonella and E.coli, which are usual causes of food poisoning associated with sprouts. Depending on their variety, the microgreens contain key nutrients including vitamins C, E, K and carotinoids! At Redmond, these are allowed to germinate in a self-built grow room within the campus, and are later moved to the Urban Cultivator while also serving as display, before becoming food in the plate.

On the other hand, the aeroponic pyramids, which allows leafy vegetables to grow under a misty and soil-free environment (which saves water!), serve as both the growing platform and centrepiece to the campus café.

However, the decentralized model of where the vegetables are grown, which takes advantage of the available space inside the campus, makes monitoring and information collection more challenging. Jessica identified new technologies for sensors as an aspect with large room for innovations.

“Urban farming garage group”

Speaking of innovations, this campus full of techies just won’t fall short on that! The urban farming garage group came together, initially as curious customers, to learn problems and think of solutions to deal with these problems faced by agriculture.

In fact, urban farming has already improved many aspect of the food supply, by reducing water use and energy wastage during transportation. On top of that, the plants bring fresh air and life to the steel and concrete (or in this case silicone and CPU) of the urban setting, and reinitiate the talks on food, nutrition and sustainable farming in the new generation of technology oriented minds!

From the public health perspective…

From the public health perspective, urban farming has shown many benefits to the individual and community health. At the individual level, bringing the farm closer to urban dweller improves interest, knowledge and practice of healthy diet. Foods previously expensive due to short preservation periods, but high in nutritional value, such as salads and microgreens, can become more readily accessible. The enjoyable addition of green space also helps to improve people’s psychological and mental wellbeing.

At the society level, urban farming classically stabilize food security, improves overall environmental stewardship, and further diversifies urban economic activities.

As technology comes into the play of urban farming, the most cutting-edge system brings green (or red, yellow, purple.. you name it!) back to the gray and blue associated with high-techs. This not only reinforces the returning of the food topic back to technology discussion (without the previous stigmatizing GMO or overly processed labels) but also drives new innovations to tacitly merging the two in an entirely different way!

 

 

 

 

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