Byte-sized: how tech is revolutionizing food production

By Ciara O'Brien

Caleb Harper didn’t start out with the intention of revolutionising the food industry and building an army of “nerd farmers."  In fact, despite a family background in agriculture, his first career had nothing to do with farming. The man who has made a name for himself by building “food computers” started out as an architect.

“I used to professionally design data centres in the US, and hospitals around the UK. As an architect I was always designing climate because data centres are about getting rid of heat at all costs, so you’re really designing a building for a computer,” he explained. “And with the hospitals I was designing a building, especially surgical theatres, to protect for contamination and disease—the biologic control of an atmosphere or environment.”

It seemed like a natural fit, if a circuitous route, to start building climates for plants. But the inspiration for his new career didn’t come from his background; it was a trip to Japan with the MIT Media Lab in the wake of the tsunami and Fukushima disaster that triggered his interest.

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