Hacking the food chain in Switzerland

A group has recently been formed on Meetup seeking to build a food computer in Zurich. The initial meeting is planned for 6:30pm on 20 June 2017 at ETH, (Zurich Centre/Zentrum, Rämistrasse 101).

The question of food security underlies many of the world's problems today. In wealthier nations, we are being called upon to trust a highly opaque supply chain and our choices are limited to those things that major supermarket chains are willing to stock. A huge transport and storage apparatus adds to the cost and CO2 emissions and detracts from the nutritional value of the produce that reaches our plates. In recent times, these problems have been highlighted by the horsemeat scandal, the Guacapocalypse and the British Hummus crisis.

One interesting initiative to create transparency and encourage diversity in our diets is the Open Agriculture (OpenAg) Initiative from MIT, summarised in this TED video from Caleb Harper. The food produced is healthier and fresher than anything you might find in a supermarket and has no exposure to pesticides.

An open source approach to food

An interesting aspect of this project is the promise of an open source approach. The project provides hardware plans, a a video of the build process, source code and the promise of sharing climate recipes (scripts) to replicate the climates of different regions, helping ensure it is always the season for your favour fruit or vegetable.

Do we need it?

Some people have commented on the cost of equipment and electricity. Carsten Agger recently blogged about permaculture as a cleaner alternative. While there are many places where people can take that approach, there are also many overpopulated regions and cities where it is not feasible. Some countries, like Japan, have an enormous population and previously productive farmland contaminated by industry, such as the Fukushima region. Growing our own food also has the potential to reduce food waste, as individual families and communities can grow what they need.

Whether it is essential or not, the food computer project also provides a powerful platform to educate people about food and climate issues and an exciting opportunity to take the free and open source philosophy into many more places in our local communities. The Zurich Meetup group has already received expressions of interest from a diverse group including professionals, researchers, students, hackers, sustainability activists and free software developers.

Next steps

People who want to form a group in their own region can look in the forum topic "Where are you building your Food Computer?" to find out if anybody has already expressed interest.

Which patterns from the free software world can help more people build more food computers? I've already suggested using Debian's live-wrapper to distribute a runnable ISO image that can boot from a USB stick, can you suggest other solutions like this?

Can you think of any free software events where you would like to see a talk or exhibit about this project? Please suggest them on the OpenAg forum.

There are many interesting resources about the food crisis, an interesting starting point is watching the documentary Food, Inc.

If you are in Switzerland, please consider attending the meeting on at 6:30pm on 20 June 2017 at ETH (Centre/Zentrum), Zurich.

One final thing to contemplate: if you are not hacking your own food supply, who is?