Perpetual AMA for Caleb


Documentation for complete nono’s like me would be helpful :slight_smile: I can help in sharing the experience of someone who doesn’t have a clue…


@gordonb Haha, gotcha. Will do!


@Caleb @gordonb and team, in addition to @adrianlu 's suggestion about job postings and documentation (which I totally agree), I would like to highlight two elements that I think are missing and are key to advance this initiative with the community:

  • Data - It is time to start sharing data (and in fact, I would like to suggest a new category in the forum called data). Likewise people say where they are building the PFC and their social media accounts, people could share what seeds they are planting, actual air and water temperature, humidity, CO2, pH, amount and frequency of nutrients, how long is taking to grow something, and you could help providing ideal or optimal values, when you know them (or literature suggests).
  • Readings - we would benefit from a list (crowdsourced by the nerdfarmers) of recommended readings, articles and books about hydroponics. People will learn faster and save time

Happy to help



data : Great point. @gordonb can you create a data category? Further - The 2.0 backend can accomplish this. We have been reticent to release data from the 1.0 backend because it was messy and might be problematic. The 2.0 backend creates recipies and can load recipes, so this should be available in the short term. also we are still working on the right open source data license - anybody have any favorites?

readings : Great Idea. @gordonb can you create a sub-category for readings?


@Caleb @pauanta done!


Many thanks! Will start contributing as soon as I can and will invite the other nerdfarmers to do so


@Caleb, first of all I sincerely appreciate you making yourself available to the public. I am sure you must be extremely busy, but the work you are doing is really inspiring and I believe really helping jump-start those of us with limited resources and time.

You mention in several of your talks that you have helped build food servers around the globe. I have met with another member who I met through this forum and they too are interested in building a food server. I also am receiving donations of obsolete parts from my employer with the plan to prototype a lettuce farm inside of a shipping container. I’m having to really start from scratch in terms of sourcing parts, idealizing design, making decisions on medium type and automation controls, etc. If you were able to provide any sort of documentation on your current MIT Food Server and how it works, as well as solicit this from the other sites around the globe this would start to really improve future attempts to build food servers from users interested in this on a slightly larger scale.

Are there any plans to provide documentation or support to other organizations interested in pursuing this? I understand you all must be swamped, I myself would be willing to help organize and compile this documentation if I was able to gain access to it in any sort of raw format.

Thank You,
Peter Webb.


Hey @Webb.Peter - we expect food server docs in a few months. Still prototyping. Its an expensive and time consuming endeavor. Expect 80K+ of parts. We are starting with a reefer container (not a cheap choice but atmospherically controlled from the factory) and the 8’ wide x10’ tall x 40’ format. More to come as we get our new R&D lab online in Nov/Dec. Thanks!


Hey Everyone

You might have heard that I’ll be speaking at the White House with the nerdfarmer in chief himself on Monday Oct 3rd. I posted about it in the community thread. Id really appreciate the support and check the livestream for the v2!!! Docs to follow shortly

Thank you!!


@Caleb, that is really cool you are going to be getting that level of publicity and support.

I am asking is if there is any opportunity to collaborate with either other current farmers who have servers or see their designs. Perhaps one of the universities has done a study, or published a grant paper on the project. Providing us with access or links to the other groups documentations would really help point us in similar directions. Just a ten minute YouTube video on your Aeroponic system would really go a long way. It could contain information about: this is how we do this, this is why we do this, here are some things not to do, ect.

The company I work for is willing to donate/provide me with obsolete and free parts to build this unit. They are a grocery retailing refrigerator manufacturer, and therefore have an interest in this industry. They are not yet willing to devote their own R&D to it, but are willing to let me pursue this project on the side. I have planned to use a reefer container, and am working on my own documentation now as I begin work and prototype a design. In the spirit of not duplicating efforts here are my goals: to provide a simple design that can be used as a shipping container lettuce farm, and then allow kits to be sold to organizations who wish to build these food servers on their own.

I know cleaned up documentation is hard to provide, I think I’m more asking if there is intentions to populate the Wiki with links/articles that your team used when they were learning. By seeing how your team came to their final solution, it will really help those of us following along to keep up. The flip side of this is that I truly believe I may have insights I can offer to your team, as well as possibly resources through my organization. I am likely not alone in this and if I think if others were given an opportunity to move to a larger scale this could catch more corporate attention.

Thanks again for your reply,
Peter Webb.


thank you @Webb.Peter - I’ll do my best to address your questions.

The main problem is there ARE NO OPEN SOURCE designs (that I know of) so collaborating with existing companies is near impossible, unfortunately, this is exactly what we aim to influence to change. If you know of some open designs, please let me know. ALSO - We must be very careful in releasing designs in this community, make sure everything is marked creative commons or lots of folks are just waiting to take them and protect them (trust me)

On containers: We are using reefers too!! (8’x10’x40’) So thats great. I also want to be clear that we are NO WHERE NEAR a final solution, at all. Our design approach at this point is very simple, as modular and as mutable as possible. To that effect we have reserved approx 4 ft in the front for “elec/dry storage” that we have filled with power supplies that are meterable and controllable and the rest filled with 2’x4’x10’ rolling racks (like bakers racks) on either side of a 2.5’ aisle. Designing specific, fixed, customized racks at this point - in my opinion - is a waste of time, before we have set base lines of performance. WE NEED TO BE ABLE TO ITERATE QUICKLY without a ton of cost, this is already a very capital intense endeavor. What is more important is that our environments are controlled within similar bands of error and that we are using the same data collection methods. On that, our backend should be available soon, right @gordonb @DougieFresh ? :wink: also the “brain boxes” as we are calling them (pi+arduino+shields+sensors) should be as well, if they are not already.

Documentation is really hard to provide while innovating and designing. I think one thing I do poorly, and on accident, is share my passion and vision so clearly that it seems like we (MIT openag) have it all figured out. As a matter of fact, that could not be further from the truth.

We JUST landed 4 containers at MIT, they have not even been fitted out, its in process now and will be operational Jan/Feb. Happy to share renders of that.

We HAVE run a prototype (the clear/polycarb farm we have shown pictures of) that is 6’x8’x30’ with a unistrut frame with modular 2’x4’ shallow water culture and aero “component” trays. Happy to share details of that (pretty sure we have?) in pictures and maybe we need a video/hangout meetup?? anyone want to coordinate this? (@adrianlu ? ;))

I ABSOLUTELY agree you have insight to provide, that is why we built this site and it is my greatest hope. Maybe a new thread titled “server farm” with updates from everyone working on that?

I would say be very careful making any claims on the productivity / economic use case for the “server farm” it is still very early. Ive found that gaining corporate attention by saying “lets collaborate together” on this project and NOT “I have a solution for you” that drives a much more meaningful (and larger financial support) engagement.

I hope this helps and gets us moving forward.



Yup! The code is all there for the Food Server brain box.

Centralized docs have been the biggest challenge with the codebase. Since building a farm requires so many levels of software (from sensor firmware all the way up to front-end web dev) the the code ends up in dozens of repos. I think what needs to happen next is “one documentation hub to rule them all”, with BOMs, guides, API cookbooks, etc. The good news is, we’re working on it! Docs are getting added to code and we’re currently chatting with, which might be a good solution for docs.


@Caleb, Absolutely. Sounds like a wonderful idea :slight_smile: I’ll notify the UAT team. Who shall we coordinate with to get started planning this out?

P.S. Nice work on the SXSL panel discussion. Keep it up!


@Caleb Again, thank you for your very detailed reply.

In terms of open source designs for container farms, I have seen a few projects done by individuals or small teams. While they claim to be “Open Source” I have not gotten ahold of any detailed documentation/code, there is CAD drawings for this and they have multiple successful prototypes in Europe.

Urban Farm Units:

Modular is the way to go, it is so refreshing to hear how open you are trying to keep everything (not just the code) flexible and scalable. The concept of brain boxes is great, this will not only enable much faster prototyping but a hardware solution that remains standard despite the size of the unit.

One of the biggest questions I’ve had is whether or not vertical farming is more efficient than traditional horizontal NFT beds. You mentioned rolling racks which would point in the direction of NFT or Aeroponics. To me, having vertical “growing columns” or “growing walls” would lend itself very well to Aeroponics. I’m sure you are familiar with the Freight Farms design which uses vertical columns, whereas many of the other container farm companies have stuck with horizontal racks.

I could not agree with you more about how to approach corporate collaboration. I am currently engaging my employer with this as a sort of market exploration and internal education project. They also love the idea of fresh lettuce in our cafeteria, which likely many organizations would view as a major perk. I think getting other organizations involved like this will just continue to drive growth. I’m curious about what CoLAB is working on with Target, from what I’ve been able to gather that appears to be a very successful nonprofit/corporate collaboration research model.

@gordonb How can I order a Brainbox/do you have a manufacturer?

@adrianlu I am more than happy to meet, please suggest a time (I am fairly open this next week) and we can plan to meet. Do you have a preferred tool for video conferencing?

Thank You,
Peter Webb.


@caleb @gordonb @adrianlu @webb.peter - please include me in the video conferencing for a food server, i am setting up a reefer container in a local marina & would be happy to share design info.


Hi @Webb.Peter,

Did you want to meet to plan out next steps for putting together a hangout for the food server? How about we start out with a separate forum thread to get the planning started?

I’m happy to chat if you’d like anyway. Thursday or Friday (10/20 or 10/21) at 12pm PST I’m available. Send me a DM. Just not sure what we could discuss at length yet without speaking more about the hangout with OpenAg.



@Caleb, Hi Caleb, i’m curious to know more about and maybe you can help elaborate more on what you would like to see the open source hardware design (and maybe electronics and sensors) move.

I gather that on one hand you chose to do this open source as a way to help turn the tide away from certain technologies being patented that philosophically belongs to the people and should morally remain in the public domain. I don’t necessarily think all patents are bad or evil, but as a often strong supporter and advocate of open source i do think there are many instances where patents go too far and are morally wrong or ambiguous.

I also gather that a reason you wanted this to be open source is to take advantage of the speed at which open source designs can iterate and change by taking advantage of the collective community resources, time, expertise, willingness to experiment, etc. If so i think this is the most important reason and i think it is great. In fact we are increasingly seeing more and more traditional companies realizing this and finding out that transparency and open development or necessary for them to survive in the future as a business model.

So my basic question goes back to what you want to see happen. Do you hope that the community will take the early prototype designs and improve upon them or replace them with better ideas? I started a thread on alternative hardware as i think there is plenty of room for innovation in this area. At the moment most of my efforts will be in experimentation and tinkering as that seems to be what i do best, but i do hope i can find many ways to contribute and help push things along in new directions.



As someone coming from the 3d printing community and now an active user on Thingiverse i think you should take a look at the way Thingiverse works and how easy it is to create mods/hacks/versions to other people’s designs and how it’s fairly easy to give attribute/recognition to source designs that have been modified.

There is some criticism that Thingiverse is not exactly open source friendly as it is owned and maintained by Makerbot which was originally an open source / open hardware company that went proprietary and turned most of their back on the Open Source / Hacker community, and now even claims to own your designs that you upload. But even so, their default licence is creative commons attribution and the way the site works is rather innovative. Being a software guy you are probably more familiar with github and sharing like that, and that’s not a bad way to share either as long as people can easily use it and feel comfortable doing so.

in addition, (I feel like i mentioned this before, but can’t find where), you should take a look at othe OSHW companies and the way they are working. Sparkfun and Lulzbot come to mind quickly as they are rather close to home for me. Lulzbot is an interesting one because they have open access in real-time to thier R&D projects and designs ( That means that as a user i can take a peek at what they are experimenting with in-house. If i like a design i can take it and use it before it even becomes a standard item or product, or if i like something about it i can change it myself and give it back to Aleph Objects (lulzbot) or the community. I like the ability to access designs that are under R&D in real time as i think that will help speed up open source innovation.


Mr. Harper,

On this week on Google, one of the sponsors might be able to link your extended group of innovators. I am not a geek, just an amateur, but Leo Laporte raves about it.


Interested in working with us to co-dev some of your ideas? We are not as big of a team as some seem to think :slight_smile: