Early Versions of MARSfarm (V0.42, $300 Food Computer, etc.)

Before releasing the MARSfarm Mini in 2020, we sold several larger versions of the MARSfarm, known as “MARSfarm Large” :laughing:. This helped us to learn how teachers wanted to use our equipment and through these early sales we were able to observe it actually being used by students in a classroom. We tested several sizes, lighting configurations, and manufacturing techniques throughout this time. This is when we made our transition from using mostly off-the-shelf parts and woodworking machinery to using 3D printers and CNC machines to manufacture custom plastic components - still in @drew’s garage though!

MARSfarm Large V0.42 (2019)

This was the first product that we ever sold to a school. It was a private school (what a suprise) here in St. Louis named MICDS. The school had a wonderful high-school science teacher, who was formerly a plant scientist, that allowed me shadow their classes and observe students assembling/using them. As someone who was homeschooled K-12 this was extremely insightful.

Open-Source “Food Computer” (2017)

My first project with my co-founder, Drew Thomas, before even starting MARSfarm was to design a “Minimum Viable Product (MVP)” version of an open-source design made by the MIT Media Lab. The MVP was designed to be a plant growth chamber that integrated a computer to collect data and control the environment. We had three requirements:

  • $300 budget to source parts from a hardware store or Amazon
  • Can be completed by the average “DIY Hobbyist” or “Shop Teacher” (no 3D printers required)
  • Software that allows you to view charts from hourly temperature/humidity sensor data and photos

Start by watching this quick video to understand the design of the $300 Food Computer:

Learn how to build it yourself by following the steps outlined below:

GitHub documentation for $300 Food Computer: link to BOM, instructions, and software

After releasing the designs (on forums - just like these) the “$300 Food Computer” other community members began to post photos of their completed assemblies. Within a year, over 200 organizations in 10 different countries around the world had all built the growth chambers - and that’s just who told us. Most importantly to our future though, we were able to observe the ways that teachers and students actually used this technology - before even selling a single product!

MARSfarm was featured in a documentary called “Farming for the Future”, which was created by the largest open-source company in the world, Red Hat. This is a really well made 10-minute YouTube video that can be used to get students to think different about the skills a farmer of the future will need. I encourage you to watch it and maybe even use it in your classes - let me know if you agree!

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Stumbled on this old video showing how the MVP was used by our very first customer - Arizona Sustainability Alliance! @InnovationCenter

Here’s an article that was written back in 2018 explaining our vision for MARSfarm at that time after having created the MVP: The open-source movement to hack your arugula | Grist

It might be cool to take some of the work done by @hmw for the ‘$300 Food Computer’ project and incorporate that into the ‘$50 Countertop Greenhouse’ project. For example, two fans (120mm computer fan is likely cheapest/quietest/easiest) could be added - one for circulation and one for exhaust - to regulate temperature.

A 2024 iteration would probably include an SCD30 for environmental sensing, a 4MP autofocus camera to images, and a pi zero 2w (with pins) for computing. I don’t think we need to control lighting to demonstrate a control loop - so just adding a 5V computer fan to a relay circuit would probably be plenty for a student to understand how an exhaust fan on a greenhouse is programmed.

If anyone volunteers to build this prototype - MARSfarm could potentially fund the purchase of their parts after reviewing the new proposed Bill of Materials. Our expectation would then be that the community collaborator would also update the existing documentation to include these additions. @wxazygy @Jamira @InnovationCenter @jeremy.hall