California's Silicon Valley gets all the ink, but given that California also produces way more agriculture than any other state, maybe the Salinas Valley deserves a nod every now and then. But then, maybe the distinction between the two won't last for very much longer—at least, that's what this "automated precision farming machine" has me believing. Meet the most Californian thing imaginable in the post-Governator era: the FarmBot.
Genetically engineered from 3D printers, open source tech, and world-saving rhetoric, FarmBot is the product of Rory Aronson, a mechanical engineer taking an organic agriculture class in college. FarmBot is the solution to the dilemma causing people to choose between huge industrialized farms, which produce large yields with less labor, and backyard gardening, which is more labor intensive but more biologically efficient than monoculture farming.
In his TedX talk, Aronson differentiates himself from Wendell Berry, back-to-the-fields types by pointing out that "people don't want to do manual labor." Working as designed, FarmBot sounds like it spares you from that and also from the labor of learning much about your crops. It sounds pretty fantastic actually.
Rather than spitting out plastic like your standard 3D printer, FarmBot is designed to spit out seeds or water. It could carry shredders, tillers, plows, robotic harvesting arms. Freed from the need to send tractors down in rows, farmers could plant crops closer together, or mix them with other crops. The robotic sensors will keep an eye on those rutabagas, even if they're under the rising stalks of your tomatoes.
But it's the software that really gets me. Picture email notifications when your crops are ready. Picture "planting" via drag and drop. Sure, what's your "relationship to the land" or "to the planting season"? Pretty much none, which is how I've eaten my whole life.
Naturally, to complete the California start-up-for-social-good motif, this one is starting with a few Kickstarters, first for OpenFarm, the open-source farming database. Sometime in the first quarter of next year, FarmBot's chance to kickstart will happen. Until then, we can only dream.