I think I've mentioned on this list before that my ideal house would contain
a garden room capable of providing for most of the nutritional needs of the
occupants while recycling metabolic by-products as well as other organic
waste. Here's an interesting invention that's a step in the direction of
making this possible.
from the archives of
Robot "Farmers" Revolutionize Agriculture?
by Judy Siegel, The Jerusalem Post, September 29, 1999
Israeli-developed robots that tirelessly tend hydroponically grown organic
vegetables cultivated in standard metal shipping containers promise to
revolutionize agriculture from Africa to Alaska. Called Grow-Tech 2000, the
integrated systems are stackable and self-contained, and they can replace
open-field frames, says their inventor, Lior Hessel.
The 31-year-old Technion graduate in Agricultural Engineering and Management
has filed for patents in the US and Israel and expects the first Grow-Tech
2000 to be on the market within a year.
His prototype, at the OrganiTECH Technion entrepreneurial incubator, has
shown that 500 heads of lettuce can be produced in a single container.
The system is environmentally friendly, using an absolute minimum of water,
producing oxygen instead of toxic gases from pesticides, and needing merely
to be plugged into a power source.
The robots monitor the environment, keeping the oxygen, artificial light,
carbon dioxide, humidity, temperature, mineral levels, and other factors at
"Dozens of lettuce varieties, plus innumerable other vegetables, like
cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, onion, garlic, and herbs can be cultivated
in Grow-Tech 2000. The next step is to grow hormone and chemical-free
strawberries, tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers," Hessel said.
Bushes and even trees laden with fruit could follow. The demand for organic
produce has skyrocketed in the developed world. In the US alone, the market
for naturally grown products jumped by 30 percent between 1996 and 1997. Of
7.5 billion heads of lettuce eaten in the US each year, 10 percent are
"I predict that conventional agriculture will be finished in Israel in a
decade. There just isn't enough water, and fields will be covered over with
housing. What could remain are organic farms like these systems and the
export of know-how like ours," said Hessel. He first conceived the idea
several years ago, but has been working on the project since last summer.
The Technion industrial incubator received seed money from the Chief
Scientist's Office of the Ministry of Industry and Trade and is now
considering offers for investors and strategic partners from Israel and
abroad. Hessel expects the company, which now has six professional staffers,
to have hundreds of workers within a year.
"The applications are endless," Hessel said. "We believe we can grow highly
pure raw materials for the pharmaceutical industry. We also can solve the
problem of insects in leafy vegetables for religious Jews whose glatt kosher
standards demand a complete absence of pests. Also, today large amounts of
pesticides are used, but this is not healthy."
Hessel doesn't envisage many ordinary people having a self-contained farm in
their garden, but he does believe that the "growing machines" could be
located at retail establishments, such as supermarkets, restaurants, and
fast-food places, as well as at distribution commissaries for chain stores.
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