Growing Plants in Space - MARSfarm Curriculum


The $300 Minimum Viable Food Computer Food Computer has been built by quite a few individuals on these forums. In the effort of making the project more accessible to teachers, and students @drewthomas89 and I have formed a commercial venture which intends to manufacture and distribute kits and continue to develop the open-source software.

We want to make agriculture exciting, and we believe that by teaching ourselves/students to design for a closed-loop agricultural system (space) solutions to existing agricultural problems will be found as well. This is why we believe it is so important to keep as much of our work open-source as possible, so it can be “pulled” by those who need it, and not just “pushed” to those who can afford it.

A good example of an organization already teaching about both plants and space is Fairchild Botanical Gardens (see #3 below) who has been working with NASA, and its STEM network of schools to act as citizen scientists for several years. They are using citizen scientist students to help identify which crops would be the best to grow on Mars.

At MARSfarm, it’s our goal to work with organizations like Fairchild, as well as other large nonprofits in both the aerospace, STEM, and plant science communities. We want to manufacture kits and work with partners to develop a curriculum which can be used in conjunction with open-source software to create datasets which can be shared with many partners for analysis.

We are looking for beta testers in schools, as well as teachers to help us develop the curriculum. Please take a look at what we’ve put together so far, it’s quite rough, but the goal here is to get feedback on our direction and begin to involve the community in the development of this curriculum as well:

Edit - I wanted to include links to some of the other relevant conversations that led to the development of this outline:

  1. 2017 Spring Semester: Food Computing in Education - Beta-Test
  2. Calling all Educators! Who's using Food Computers in schools?
  3. NASA - Open Source Agriculture Innovations

Vertical Hydroponics Farm in Our Science Lab
MVP build for Youth Garden Project, Moab Utah

Love the different roles, the inclusion of nutrition in the curriculum, and the PR role (very important).


Thanks - @thiemehennis - If you’ve got anything put together (anything at all) that you’re willing to share from AstroPlant related to curriculum I’d love to see it and add it to the discussion.

@bennis I’d love to get your input and opinion on what you feel a MARSfarm curriculum would look like for high-school. Perhaps you could ask your classmates as well? I know when we talked you mentioned that a lot of your friends “didn’t get it” - which is totally normal - do you think that the space component would perhaps make it more interesting? I’m also curious what you think about the level of “building” that the students should be required to do. How much was that fun? The electronics too difficult? What else would make it more interesting?

FYI to everyone else: @bennis got a grant for his high-school to build MVP’s - they’ll have 5 finished by the end of the semester:

I’d also love to hear feedback from @ATBFarms @anisa @melanieshimano @house @hildreth @MrsHesseltine @rheitz and any other teachers out there, please.


Hi folks!

This is great, thanks for sharing @Webb.Peter .

We’re collecting materials on the OpenAg EDU Wiki page! This is where we’d love the community to begin sharing what you’re developing based in any way on OpenAg’s Food Computers.

Through research and testing over the years at the Media Lab, we’ve heard from lots of teachers that it’s hard to know where to start with Food Computers in the classroom, and how to connect with other teachers who’re are doing the same.

We created the wiki as the easiest repository for all sorts of materials, and to make sure educators who are new to OpenAg can find what they need, but then also share what they’ve created (as opposed to going through different threads here). Looking forward to seeing that page grow!


Thank you, @Webb.Peter, for sharing your thoughts and ideas about your project with schools and educators. I applaud your efforts to make (and eventually distribute) a Food Computer that’s more accessible to and affordable for educators. I agree with @hildreth and think the OpenAg EDU Wiki is a great place for posting and sharing projects such as yours with other participating / interested educators.

I took a look at the MARSfarm Curriculum, and it looks good. As a suggestion, it’ll be key to integrate specific NGSS components and STEM standards, prior to testing the curriculum. That’s where participating teachers will come in handy with respect to curriculum development. This takes a lot of time and planning, and iterations of implementation. It’s very important to integrate the “why”, “core goals” and “expected outcomes” in advance, so that the students know what they’re undertaking.

If there are assessment components, then what will they be, and what education standards will those assessment questions address? Also, one thing to keep in mind: Teachers usually stick to a particular scope and sequence, in addition to time estimates with respect to their curriculum, and certain long-term projects may eat up a lot of time spent outside the classroom and after school for completion.

With respect to the “MVP”, I imagine you’re gathering that the build needs to be straight forward and easy enough, and shouldn’t take too much time. One thing to consider is a good “after school” project with respect to the “heavy lifting” (fabrication, coding, wiring, component testing). Building an instrument to be used for learning is a whole separate set of skills, when contrasted with using the instrument for experimentation and learning.

For what it’s worth, I think the kit should be mostly pre-assembled prior to delivering it to the customer, and all of the instructions (assembly, hooking up components) need to be easy to read and understand.

I imagine that any coding to be done will have all of the scripts ready to go. I’m thinking that on the teaching / learning end, the coding can be made much easier to teach and learn by using a “coding block” structure like Blockly. Coding blocks are typically the “industry standard” with hobby kits that incorporate programming.

Okay, that’s my 2-cents! Your project is looking really good, and I look forward to seeing it continue through it’s embryonic development!


@ATBFarms I remember our previous conversation regarding NGSS standards and have every intention to implement them.

With regards to the “after school” project, I think that you’re right, unless integrated through a robotics program or something much of the assembly needs to be already completed.

Thanks for the tip on Blockly, I’m interested to learn more about it. Correct me if I’m wrong but will this be replacing (or extending) Scratch? While I like this style and think it would be excellent for recipe writing (that’s how FarmBot is set up as well) I’m not sure if coding is something we want to try to teach right off the bat. I think that a lot more emphasis can be put on the food education (nutrition, flavor, sustainability, etc.) as well as citizen science components and data analysis. That being said, we’re trying to keep the code as accessible as possible to encourage high-school hackers :grin:.

Here is the roadmap for next steps regarding curriculum development, I’d love to hear everyone/anyone’s thoughts:



Just wondering if there has been any development in the kit department, I’m currently getting a small grant together to buy a food computer for use across STEM classes at a small high school in Washington State.


We are actively looking for schools to work with as beta testers. We plan to do an early run of kits in the Fall for those tests, would you be interested in participating? I’d like to know more about your program.

Alternatively, instead of buying a kit from us, you could build this now: $300 Food Computer


I would definitely be interested in being part of any beta testing of kits, I teach on San Juan Island (3 hours north of Seattle including a ferry) I have students looking into ways to make the high school more self sufficient and lower our carbon foot print and one idea they landed on is reducing the amount of produce we import, while also looking at viable off grid options for places that don’t have good soil for farming.

My email is if you would like to discuss further offline. Thanks for the reply!



My apologies, I missed this between other notifications. I appreciate you reaching out and would love to learn more about what you’d like to use your Food Computer for.

Could you go through the process of signing up via our website? We’d like to keep all of the applications in one place: