Making Community Green

Agriculture consumes approximately 80% of the Nation’s fresh water. About 50% of its produce ends up discarded from the Farm-to the Fork. In addition, 90% of the population isn’t consuming healthy foods due to a lack of affordable and available fresh produce. To address this problem, our team is developing a simple to use, fully automated, personal greenhouse system. This idea will encourage people to eat healthier, and will save the environment by conserving water and reducing waste.

The Problem:
Two large issues that we have encountered in the United States can be defined by one word; waste. Even though 70% of the world is covered with water, our usable freshwater supply is made up of less than 1 percent of that, making freshwater very limited in its supply (PVWC, 2018). In this country, agriculture alone utilizes approximately 80% of the Nation’s consumptive water. With the vast amount of droughts and dry spells that are happening in the United States, we do not have much room for wasting any of the consumable water that we do have. With that said, about 50% of its food produce ends up discarded during production, shipment, distribution, and storage. With about 1 in 6 people in the United States not having access to a sufficient amount of food (, 2018), these levels of wasted valuable resources that could be used to help feed those people are unacceptable and could be drastically reduced if a more efficient method could be developed. On top of that, approximately 90% of the population don’t consume enough healthy foods. This is partly due to a lack of affordable and easily available fresh produce. One way people can attain affordable fresh produce would be to grow their own food, but due to the high pace, high stress lifestyle of the average American, most people can’t seem to find the time or experience needed to maintain their own garden. At Henry Ford College, since we study the effects of different variables on the natural growth of vegetables inside an actual greenhouse, we have been motivated to make this process automated.

The Solution:
Our team is developing a simple to use, fully automated, personal greenhouse system that requires minimal human interaction. This device replicates the experience and inputs of a professional farmer utilizing a microcontroller which maintains a constantly optimum growing environment without wasting any supplies. A centralized control unit monitors and adjusts different parameters throughout one entire system. Part of this is a rain collection/distribution unit that uses runoff rainwater from any roof or surface and distributes it efficiently throughout the growing environment. By utilizing multiple sensors, the control unit is able to monitor the moisture levels in various locations and then sends the appropriate amount of water through the irrigation system. To adapt to more arid climates, this can be retrofitted to accommodate alternative water sources if rain is not common enough in a location. Along with that, the controller uses other sensors in the soil to monitor pH levels and mineral deficiencies. It then adjusts the mineral, fertilizer, and pH level for the desired soil condition. The system collects information such as weather forecasts, current, temperature, humidity, and overcast to automatically open and close a geodesic dome. This provides the growing bed with proper temperature and humidity year-round. The system is powered by a solar panel array interconnected to a battery backup bank to keep the system functioning. To accommodate pollination, necessary for the growth of natural fruit plants, the user is then provided with required resources.

Impacts and Benefits:
If Bot’Anical is commonly used, it will have countless benefits to our society. Firstly, by utilizing rainwater, the need for external water sources will be dramatically reduced. The use of data from future forecasts to inform the fully automated system, through the Internet, and then by changing the amount of water irrigated on days prior to predicted rain will conserve even more precious water. Growing food in-house will significantly reduce the substantial produce waste that is created by the current agricultural system on it’s way from the farm to the fork. Removing the need for transportation will cut carbon emissions drastically. Our product will also help to improve public health by encouraging people to consume more fruits and vegetables. According to Webmd (2018), less than three percent of Americans live a healthy lifestyle. With an increase in fast food, empty sugars, and artificial chemicals, the occurrence of the flu, illnesses and obesity is common. Consumption of vitamins and minerals from fresh produce will increase the overall health of the population resulting in a reduction in national health costs. In a different perspective, giant grocery stores such as Walmart, Kroger, and Whole foods can be equipped with automated greenhouses where people could go and pick their own fresh produce. This product would open up an entirely new industry and provide many job opportunities, as well as shift the position from farmers and truckers to new businesses. It will create jobs at manufacturing facilities as well as open maintenance centers.