OpenAg for High Schoolers


Hi my name is Neelam Ferrari. I’m a rising senior in high school and I have been working at the OpenAg lab as a summer intern. This blog will be updated weekly with new information about research, projects, exciting events, and anything else that pertains to the OpenAg community. This platform is a great way for me to communicate the different tools and technology incorporated with the Open Ag lab.


Last week the Media Lab hosted a National Geographic Student Expedition, where 36 students from all around the country spent some time at the lab, learning about the Open AG Initiative, what we are doing with Food Computers, and the potential that new technologies have towards the global food challenges expected to arise in the coming decades. The Expedition students worked with our team to understand OpenAg Initiatives through participation in workshops, breakout sessions and in small discussion groups, ultimately creating their own food computers. It was three full days of discussion, hard work and also fun. Future posts will describe some of the sessions in more detail.


During the National Geographic Event, I conducted an Impact Workshop with the students. The students were assigned problems addressing various social, economic, and ecological issues associated with the OpenAg Initiative, and then they had to break into groups and devise solutions to challenges incorporating food computer technologies.

We split 36 students into six groups, each addressing a different question associated with Food Computer implementation. The topic areas were: Farmers of the Future, Sustainable Sugar, Soil Health, Water Conservation, ‘Nerd Farmers’, and Nutrition. Examples of two of these are described below.

The first group had to overcome the challenge of creating more net jobs by using the OpenAg technologies. They came up with “Farmers of the Future” which would help to stimulate the creation of jobs, incorporating vertical farming, robotics and different water solutions, among many other ideas.

Another problem dealt with how the students would be able to develop an alternative sweetener for a country such as India and what the effects would be. The students came to the conclusion that this would create jobs in the technology sector and help to grow the agricultural economy through technology.

These are just a couple of examples of collaborative problem solving within the workshops. The students were fully engaged in this process, excited to work with their teams, and ultimately by the end of the workshop, they started to think about the components of food production and distribution system in a different way.



Thank you for the posts and the photos, I can’t wait to hear more about what you guys are doing at the lab! Please continue to post the photos it really adds a lot of value and helps visualize all of the cool stuff out there.


@MonkeyMan_TV Thanks so much for your input! Make sure to check back for more updates-there’s a lot of cool stuff happening!


That looks like a ton of fun Neelam! I’m a rising senior myself, and ever since I built my FC, I’ve loved being a part of the OpenAg community. I thought it might be cool to show some summer-campers at my local community farm the OpenAg Tech, so last week I gave them a visit and they really enjoyed the experience.

Keep us updated!


@JamesO Thanks for reading my blog! I will be starting this at my high school too, and maybe in the future we can compare notes!


Measuring Spectra

During my time at the lab I have worked with a hand held spectrometer. A spectrometer is a tool that measures the specific wavelengths of light (spectra) that a biological agent, in our case a plant, absorbs. One of the things that our team is is focused on is measuring three different molecular organic compounds: anthocyanins, brix, and carotenoids. The presence of these compounds in different concentrations in the plant’s genotype results in the expression of various phenotypes, or physical characteristics. These phenotypic characteristics include flavor, nutritional content and value, and color/appearance. The benefits of using the spectrometer, and providing the results to the OpenAg community, is to help other groups figure out which wavelengths of light best correlate with specific molecular compounds, as we try to optimize phenotype dependent growing conditions.

Growing Veggies packed w/ Flavor & Nutrition

Is there a place where results are posted?


Hi Neelam! I look forward to contributing to the community!


@MonkeyMan_TV I plan to start posting results here in the near future. I will also be posting results on my personal blog, I’ll let you know when this starts.


@fmark61 Glad to have you, look forward to your contributions!


The Importance of Coding In Life Sciences

Computer programming, or coding, is as much art as it is science. The art of coding isn’t sitting around all day on a computer, generating scripts, hoping that our commands will execute. Coding can allow us to do things we never thought were possible. Coding can even help to guide how living things are grown. Each line of code can be its own experiment, and creativity and intuition becomes just as important as constructing and executing digital commands.

With all of the recent advances in technology, I feel that at least understanding the basics of coding is the best preparation for our future. Through knowing how to code, one will be able to develop a better understanding of not only biology, physics and chemistry, but also economics, politics and complex systems. Take biology for example: coding can allow us to grow plants that we want, with their desired characteristics, in our own homes. That’s what we are trying to accomplish at the MIT OpenAg Initiative. In the next 30-35 years, the United Nations estimates that the world’s population will reach nearly 10 billion. Simply stated, there will be too many people on this planet and not enough farmland to grow and adequate amount of food with the recommended nutritional requirements for a population of this size. This is why technologies such as the food computer will be an essential component in how we feed and distribute food. The coding piece comes in as we look to create and share ‘climate recipes’ which allow for specific growing climates to be coded and created, regardless of location. For example, let’s take a look at lettuce. By knowing how to code a lettuce climate recipe, #nerdfarmers will be able to create the perfect recipe for lettuce with the characteristics they please. Once that perfect recipe is created it can then be shared with anyone and they can plug it into their food computer and grow the perfect lettuce under the perfect conditions right in their own home. This supports the concept of open science, which we strongly support at the lab.

By growing our own food in new ways, we can skip the packaging and shipping process which can be time consuming, polluting, and also limiting freshness. The food computer, and the associated coded climate recipes, will lead towards the ability to grow fresh food, literally, right at our fingertips.


For anyone interested in sustainability, take a look at the article I wrote on Wharton’s Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership (IGEL) blog about my experiences with the MIT OpenAg group at the Media Lab. More importantly, be sure to check out the IGEL site to learn more how corporations are implementing sustainability principles into their operations.


Preach! I think that coding will become an integral part of our lives as we see advances in technology hitting closer and closer to home. For example, smart home technology. I wouldn’t be surprised if someday the food computer was linked to your fridge to regulate veggie inventory. :slight_smile:


Thought For Food

Take a look at this article in green biz from last year describing some of the companies and ideas that are transforming the food production sector. These are a blend of science, technology and market development, with most of the companies having one thing in common: DATA. Data is transforming entire industries at a rapid pace, and the agriculture sector is no exception. While reading through the article, it is easy to place what is going on in the MIT OpenAG Lab as playing a big part in feeding the world of the future.


Check out an article I wrote on the Circular Economy as it relates to food production…definite connections to what we are doing here at OpenAg.


Hi Neelam

I’m a journalist who writes a freelance education technology column for a nonprofit newsroom called the Hechinger Report. And this column is almost always reposted on Slate. I want to write my September column about OpenAg and education. I understand the MIT folks have a formal education initiative in the works that may not be quite be up and running, but it also seems like students (like you) and some teachers are also taking these ideas up on their own, creating food computers, coding climate recipes, etc. That seems to me like a great column idea. Would you be up for a quick interview sometime between tomorrow and next Weds? If so, let me know.



Recently, I attend a seminar at The University of Pennsylvania as part of the Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership (IGEL). The “Strategies to Reduce Food Waste and Mitigate Hunger” seminar addressed the issue of abundance of food waste in the country, and highlighted ways in which business can become part of the solution. The Food Cowboy organization works with many industry different players in an effort to minimize food waste, provide business opportunities for small and large businesses, and deliver excess food to communities where it may be needed. The speakers gave an example during their talk about food delivery trucks being ‘rejected’ at their destination, which will not allow the food to make its way through to the intended restaurants or grocery stores. This food is often rejected due to color or appearance, but it is still perfectly edible. This particular case is where the Food Cowboy network can help to find alternative uses for edible food that may otherwise just be sent to a landfill. What makes this an interesting sustainability business opportunity is that the companies that benefit are not limited to those solely in the food industry. Food Cowboy has developed an interesting location-based technology network that routes food to a potential buyer, based on location and expiration dates. Therefore, this opens up business opportunities for communication and trucking companies, in addition to food producers and restaurants.

According to the speakers, the world produces twice as much food as it consumes. This gap is the source of the world’s hunger problem. The issue is not that we have an inadequate amount of food, we just don’t know how to get it into the right hands at the right time. The Food Cowboy network is providing new ways to connect supply with demand.


Hey Neelam,
Out of curiosity, how did you get into that program? I am a senior at Pacific Grove High in CA and I am also the creator of my schools hydroponics team. We are building large scale hydroponic systems for our school (plant capacity over 150) as well as prototyping new methods of hydroponics. I have handed off the construction side of things to the “co-founder” so I could focus on the programming and prototyping. The food computer really interests me and I was just wondering how you found out about/applied to/got accepting into the program.