Currently, cities’ food systems are often unsustainable. For instance, London’s ecological footprint is 200 times its surface area, requiring more than the entire productive area of Britain to sustain itself (Environmental Agency 2006), whilst 47% of the food the UK is imported (Dept. for Environment Food & Rural Affairs 2012). Grewal and Grewal (2012) have argued that cities can be transformed from being only consumers of food and other agricultural products into important resource-conserving, health improving, sustainable generator of these products.
In this project funded by EPSRC, we will explore how digital technologies can support effective urban agriculture. One major challenge of this community-driven agriculture is the lack of specialist knowledge in growing food efficiently and safely. Ensuring efficient use of resources requires an ability to know the quantities the crop requires and being able to deliver accurately that requirement, avoiding waste. Therefore, our aim is to investigate the potential of using low-cost sensor and social-media technology to support community-driven urban agriculture. The research team has developed a prototype called “Digiplant”. Digiplant is an integrated sensor device consisting of low cost sensors that can measure soil moisture content, air humidity, environmental temperature and light levels. Recording such information provides the basis to determine crop resource use strategies, e.g., logging difference in wet and dry bulb temperatures can be used to calculate evaporative demand and crop water use.
This data is collected and transferred to an online database through wifi-connection. The user can view the data in graphical visualisation format on their mobile phones or computers. The prototype has a water pump allowing irrigation automatically based on sensor data, or manually carried out by the users.
The project started as a 2nd year electronic engineering student supervised by Dr Marcelli and myself, and has won the University of Kent Green Impact Innovation Award 2014.