How do you grow food on Mars?
These food entrepreneurs, urban farmers and bio-hackers are figuring it out.
Mars is great. It's got a beautiful red hue and decades-long control of our collective imagination. But you know what would make it even better? Food.
If we ever live on Mars like Matt Damon, then we're going to need to eat on Mars. Shipping food from Earth would be ridiculously expensive. That means we need to figure out how to farm on a planet that hasn't been evolving to grow food for millions of years like Earth. You know what we mean: space farming.
Luckily, a new team of bright-eyed researchers are on the job, and we're not talking about NASA. A group of food entrepreneurs, urban farmers, NGOs, bio-hackers and others have joined forces to form the Mars Farm Odyssey. The group met in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv recently to make some headway on farming in space.
"Official" agencies like NASA and the European Space Agency are trying to figure this all out as well. But the founders of the Mars Farm Odyssey think that humans as a whole may be able to come up with insights that small teams of government scientists miss. For instance, NASA is working on Mars food bars, but the group in Tel Aviv agreed that bars are not a decent way for humans to live long term.
"We debated how this is no way to live," explained Karin Kloosterman, who cofounded Flux, a company that works on urban farming. "That food must fit humanity. It must evoke passions, our creativity, and our senses."
The Tel Aviv group even workshopped an idea to make food science kits for citizens, letting regular people figure out the best ways to grow various plants and input their findings into a computer. They could together make digital "food computers" that create the exact conditions plants need.
"The collective hive of humanity has more ideas to offer than a research team buried in a bunker somewhere," explained Kloosterman. "And this know-how can be applied on Earth, too, so young researchers can employ the hive to start experimentation even without the gravity or resource limitations one would experience in space."
It's not just about Mars. This group is exploring how to grow food sustainably in a closed system. That means they can't depend on trade, and they want to minimize waste. So their findings could be very useful for figuring out how to grow food sustainably on Earth too.
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