You could mistake Caleb Harper’s Personal Food Computer for a 3-D printer. The desktop-sized plastic box is a cut down version of his CityFarm, and designed to grow fresh vegetables anywhere, without soil.
The Personal Food Computer is a tiny aeroponics system, a miniature farm that creates its own weather, and supplies nutrients to the plants’ roots by misting them with water. Coupled with monitors that track things like CO2, light levels and humidity, the box can be dropped anywhere, and grow fresh food, regardless of surrounding conditions.
The water-sipping properties of aeroponics seem especially relevant in these times of drought, but this decentralization also means less long-distance transport, and–in a possible future–less environmental pressure from large farms.
There are other similarities to the 3-D printer. Harper, of the MIT Media Lab, also plans to let users share recipes. Imagine buying a pack of tomato seeds, and then downloading the instructions to grow them. Your personal food computer would follow these instructions, and perhaps you could tweak settings to customize the tomatoes to your tastes. You could think of it as like similar to the row of herbs you have growing on your kitchen window ledge, only with regular vegetables, and with no chance of you forgetting to water them.
Some might not like these “unnatural” vegetables, but it’s not so different than covering miles of desert with plastic sheeting and pumping in the water and nutrients on a huge scale, which is what already happens in countries like Spain.
The fishtank-sized home farm has other advantages. Like Harper’s larger-scale-but-still-small CityFarm, the personal food computer allows growing in urban spaces, putting the food where the mouths are, but also where the infrastructure is. Water, power and transport are already taken care of, and if you don’t have to ship your food long-distance, it can be riper when harvested. If you ever ate a peach still sun-warm off the tree, or made a salad with tomatoes allowed to ripen right up until you slice them into a salad–instead of being picked while they’re still hard enough to survive intercontinental travel, then you know what a difference this makes.
These self-contained environments are also faster than your standard, outdoor farms. The CityFarm produces crops in 25-30% of the time they’d take in a field, which translates to either better yields, or less power used to run the machines.