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Technology and the farm of the future

  • A monitoring system, donated to the Farm to Fork program by Analog Devices and ripe.io, measures the growing conditions in the Farm to Fork hoop house.  Staff photo by Ashley Saari

  • Farm to Fork Fellow Lena LaFleur speaks to Peterborough resident James Kelly during a tour of the Farm to Fork hoop house on Tuesday afternoon. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Cornucopia Project founder Kin Schilling discusses growing tactics with Farm to Fork fellow Zoe Werth.  Staff photo by Ashley Saari

  • Smart Agriculture Manager Erick Olsen, left, and Senior Engineer Rob O'Reilly of Analog Devices got to see one of the monitoring systems in action at the Farm to Fork hoop house on Tuesday, during a tour of the facility.  Staff photo by Ashley Saari



Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Hovering over the rows of tomatoes in the Farm to Fork hoop house are little red pieces of plastic, hovering over a white sensor box. It’s measuring the growing conditions — things like the temperature and humidity. It’s all part of an ongoing project to figure out how to produce the “ultimate” tomato.

Farm to Fork is an educational component of the Cornucopia Project, where high-school aged fellows (currently eight of them, planned for 12 next year) learn through hands-on experience the intricacies of running a farm.

The fellows are responsible for constructing their beds, researching the pests that they encounter, like the dreaded hornworm and cucumber beetles, and figuring out how to counteract a calcium deficiency in their peppers. 

And they’re also the feet on the ground when it comes to “The Tomato Project,” a collaboration between the Cornucopia Project and Analog Devices and ripe.io in the development of new technology that is aimed at helping farmers grow healthier and tastier produce.

The sensors in the Farm to Fork hoop house are only half of the equation. Those measure the growing conditions and gather data for farmers to make future judgments with.

The other half of the equation is the fruit that results. Analog Devices of Boston, which makes the monitoring system, has also developed a mini-spectrometer, which, when used on the resulting fruit, is able to measure things like the amount of sugar, salt and acidity within. 

In addition to the Farm to Fork program, sensors have also been placed at Farmer John’s plot, located at Nubanusit Neighborhood & Farm.

All that information is stored in the cloud and can be accessed by an app. It can give farmers alerts to drastic changes, for those that don’t have the time to parse through the data each day. 

So, why tomatoes?

Well, hopefully, they are just the start.

“We started all this as an experiment on what we could measure with our equipment,” explained Erick Olsen of Analog Devices, in a talk on the Tomato Project at the Cornucopia Project offices on Tuesday. 

The results, he said, will hopefully lead to being able to prove in a data-driven way that locally sourced food that may only be a few days from the vine are better for you, taste better, and therefore can command a higher market price, than a tomato that was picked green and may be ripening off the vine for weeks as it’s shipped across the country.

“The farm community is strong, and there’s lots of opportunities,” said Olsen. “But it has to be profitable.”

The Farm to Fork hoop house has several of the tomatoes in each of the six varieties the fellows grow marked with zip ties. The fellows have been following the progress of these tomatoes from their planting and will continue to follow them through the growing process and until they're eaten. 

They’re also monitoring commercial tomatoes grown in the area.

Currently, the project is in its early stages, and mostly, the fellows are just gathering data, without sufficient evidence yet to draw any specific conclusions, though early numbers do suggest that locally sourced tomatoes are better tasting than those imported from other areas.

There is a sister project in Boston that’s studying similar data from their own locally grown tomatoes. 

At Tuesday’s event, Analog Devices and ripe.io presented the Cornucopia Project with a combined donation of $15,000 to continue their efforts. 

 

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.