2017 Spring Semester: Food Computing in Education - Beta-Test


A thread to follow along with a few intrepid educators on their build, tests, and adventures with the v2’s of the Personal Food Computers!

Calling all Educators! Who's using Food Computers in schools?
Wiki updates: "Getting Started Growing" page
Calling all Educators! Who's using Food Computers in schools?
Calling all Educators! Who's using Food Computers in schools?

Hi All! We are kicking off a cross-curricular project tomorrow with a group of 8th graders at the Malone Middle School in Malone, New York who will build the V2 PFC, and use it from April - June. Since this will be a project that involves several school disciplines (science, social studies, ELA, math and technology) we will be looking at this type of agricultural technology from a variety of perspectives. Our main focus will be on FOOD and the future of food. We will try to share what we are doing here, and are certainly hoping to use this forum to ask questions as well!


@MrsHesseltine - Cannot wait to see your progress. Good luck! :+1:


Hello Everyone! We are working on building the V2 food computer with a group of 72 (8th grade) students and 5 content area teachers, one special education teacher and a library media specialist. We have decided to group the students into 7 groups - each group focusing on one of the build-modules, or focusing on documenting and communicating the project.

We started building last week with a small sample group of students divided between a group that started to build the frame and a group that started to build a portion of the water manifold. We figured we would start small, and see how the grouping idea works.

We sent each student a list of tasks for their specific group in Google Classroom (see example of group tasks here), and then instructed students to get into their groups and read through the tasks together. We put all of the pieces that they would need for each module in a box along with a print-out of the V2 build instructions for that module and gave that to the groups as well.

This small sample group followed the instructions and did very well. They needed very little help from the teachers for this portion of the project. We will complete the frame next week, and continue to build the remainder of the modules with students in the next two weeks. I’ll share some pictures of our small-group build on Monday! Stay tuned…students will also be posting in the forum as well in the next week or two.


Here are a couple of pictures from our first day of building. I’ll post more on Monday :slight_smile:!


Will Borden and I have started building our PFC here at Shady Hill. We have found the directions to be not so helpful at times. When working on the frame, it was difficult to tell where the holes were located on the various parts. The pictures in the printout are not clear or close enough to tell, and the video skips most of the frame build. It is also hard to keep flipping back to the parts list to see which part is which. I would suggest labeling the parts with simple letter stickers!

We have now finished the frame, but can’t move forward with the electronics panel until we get the missing parts. We’ve also begun working on the light panel. We are finding it hard to set aside the blocks of time needed to really accomplish a lot at once, while still having to teach.

All that being said, I am still very excited about using it!



Hello! This is the Sustainable Horticulture Classes of 2018 and 2020 at Essex Tech. While working on the Personal Food Computer there have been some slight issues that we feel should be addressed. To start, we have 8 students assisted by our 2 teachers working to complete this project. As a group, we have very little knowledge of the wiring that needs to be done but have other resources to call if we need any backup. Overall, our main concerns are that we have found some of the instructions are unclear and also the labeling of the materials that we have been provided from MIT. However, we have managed to create a system of organized chaos which we have been creating a time lapse to showcase the student’s progress. Through discussion we have decided that perhaps some structures would be easier to deal with pre-assembled, such as the brain and wiring components. Later today hopefully our footage of our process will be available for upload as the students are still working away right now. Thank you all for your feedback and hope the building process goes well!


Thank you for sharing! We are looking forward to seeing your pictures and/or video footage as we are a few steps behind you. Your information will likely help us moving forward this week!


Hello again. This afternoon our group had asked our school’s electrician to help us with some of the assembly that we have been struggling with. We thought his advice to us may be helpful for your classes as well. He agreed with our original comment concerning clarity of the instructions, particularly about the input voltage portion in the power module. He thinks that this part must be simpler to understand as we had to reach out for help concerning the power required. Also, we have come to another standstill and cannot complete areas of the computer due to parts that we are need shipped to us. Has anyone else run into similar problems? If so, please let us know. Also, if anyone has any idea about how to upload videos into this thread that would be very helpful for us. Thank you all very much.


Here is the very first couple of days of work with the Food Computer Beta Test at Essex Technical High School. There will be a series of installments through this channel. If it is helpful for each link to be uploaded then please feel free to let us know. More videos to follow soon.


This account is posting on behalf of the students at the Malone Middle School. We have broken up into groups for this project. Below is an update on our progress. Day One has gone well for the students of Malone. We are all working together. We have interviewed each of the groups and have their feed back. Here are all the groups and how they are doing;

Water Manifold: The water manifold group is working on the water pump. The water pump is essential to keep the plants alive. The builders from this group described their task as “complicated”.

Electric Panel: The electric panel controls heating and cooling for the food computer. The electric panel also controls the oxygen levels. This group described their task as “challenging”.

Social Media: The social media group is “working to spread the word about the food computer” -Nevaeh Scott

Light Panel: The light panel controls the heating and lighting in the food computer. The light panel “acts as the sunlight”. They are having trouble with the mounted location of the red lights and blue lights.

Feedback Group: The feedback group has been overseeing the progress of the light panel group. They stated the group was having trouble with the order of the lights and having some trouble with the direction. This food computer is proving to be a difficult task.

Photographers: The photographers are taking pictures of all the task the groups are working on. Elizabeth Bartenslager stated: “I think it’s pretty interesting” when asked about the food computer building process.

Presenter Planning: The presenter planning group is in charge of finding a presenter to talk to the 8-1 team about agriculture. This group will make calls to local managers and farmers to find if they are available to speak to us.

Power Module: This group is working on putting together the power module. The power module powers the food computer. They stated the task is challenging.

Frame: The frame group is working on putting the frame together. The group was having troubles with the project and restart, but they have fixed the poles and are back to good work.

Logo Creators: The logo creators are creating designs to represent our project.

Journalist: Speaking for ourselves, watching the process of building the food computer is an outstanding experience for our grade. We enjoy receiving feedback from our fellow classmates. Although this is a difficult task, we know our classmates will work together to help advance agriculture and experience the future with the food computers.



Hello Everyone! So, we have our first round of questions that we are hoping you might be able to help us answer. Here they are:

  1. The OpenAg signal board is not stacking completely on top of the Arduino Mega. Some of the solder points on the under-side of the OpenAg signal board are hitting the top of the housing for the end of the USB connection that routes over to the Raspberry Pi.

  2. On the “brain”… there are three terminals per block/relay on the 16 relay module. Terminals are not marked. Are they as follows?

left= NO

  1. If the clearance is close, you might be able to get away with putting a thin scrap of plastic between the board and the USB jack as an insulator while still letting all the shield pins connect to the Arduino sockets. It depends on what’s causing the problem and how bad it is. A picture might help.

  2. I don’t know the answer to your relay question, but it’s straightforward to test things like that with the continuity tester mode on a digital multimeter.

    With the board powered off, NC (normally closed) should form a “closed” circuit with COM (common), allowing current to flow between them. If you set the meter to the continuity test mode and touch the probes to NC and COM, the meter should beep. COM to NO shouldn’t beep, and NO to NC shouldn’t beep.

    If you activate the relay, the NC to COM circuit will open (no continuity) and the NO to COM circuit will close. So, NO to COM should be the only combination of terminals that beeps the continuity tester while the relay is activated.

    You may also be able to visually follow the copper traces on the circuit board back to the relays and look for NO/NC/COM labels there.



One more thing…we think there might be a misprint on line 32 of the brain directions:

K8-COM should be K8-NO to relay block K8.
K8-NO and K8 NC both wire to block K8 at this step.



Hi Jen - Thanks so much for all of your posts! Will and I haven’t been able to find much time to work on ours, but the OpenAg team is here helping us. We have gotten most of our missing parts and are working on it this week. I wish I had your older students to help! Keep posting.



@MrsHesseltine Okay, yeah, that’s a good picture. I see what you mean. It looks to me that by the time you added a plastic insulator, the pins from the shield would probably not be plugged into the Arduino well enough to make a good connection. I tested one of my Arduino boards with a piece of pin header like what’s on the bottom of your shield board, and it seems like a gap of about 1mm is the most that will still make a good electrical connection. With 2mm of pin visible between the header and the socket, the pins are just barely touching the connectors inside the socket.

Electrically speaking, your best bet would probably be to get a set of shield stacking headers to go between the boards. They cost about two bucks from Adafruit or Sparkfun [edit: actually, don’t get those because they’re for an Arduino Uno and would leave some of the Mega’s pins disconnected. Hmm… you might want to check in with Jake at MIT]. The only problem there would be if raising the board up higher causes another clearance issue with whatever is supposed to mount next to the top side of the brain board.


@hildreth, Do you think somebody at MIT could make a recommendation about @MrsHesseltine’s shield board? I bet Jake knows what to do about this, but I’m not sure if he’s on this forum or what his username is.