If you have passed through the Quad at the Upper School recently, you could not have missed seeing the large, wooden-framed, soil-filled box near the dining hall. This box, which will soon include a computer-programmed robotic gardening system and, we hope, eventually sprout organically grown fruits, vegetables and herbs, represents the latest addition to the myriad multi-disciplinary programs that we offer at Ransom Everglades.
I'd like to share with you the story behind our new FarmBot system, which brought together our students’ vision of a more sustainable campus with RE’s goal of increasing the breadth and depth of experiential and place-based learning opportunities.
FarmBot is, essentially, a farming robot. It allows students to plan and plant a garden and then efficiently maintain it by programming a mechanical robot affixed to rails along the box walls. When members of the RE science department saw a demonstration of FarmBot at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, they immediately thought of the effort already underway to bring sustainable farming to the school’s campus.
Last spring, RE’s Verde club had proposed installing a sustainable garden to grow fruits and vegetables to complement the quantity and range of healthy options provided by RE’s food service provider. Students at that time worked with Ready-to-Grow Gardens (RTGG), a local company that specializes in helping organizations grow organic vegetables, herbs and fruit in South Florida. With the help of RTGG, students identified a location for a raised-bed garden just outside the dining hall. The location was ideal in that it provided appropriate lighting conditions, access to water and close proximity to the dining room. It also had the advantage of being very visible to the community.
Acquiring the FarmBot system would help the students execute their plan, with the added benefit of bringing in a technological component to create a true interdisciplinary effort.
The raised-bed garden was built over the winter break. Students will soon be working with Chef Alfredo Silva to identify crops that he would like to have on his menu or on the salad bar. Students will then do research to see what plants can be grown in South Florida and when.
Once the students decide what crops they will plant, they will use a web-based interface to tell FarmBot precisely where to plant seeds. After plants begin to grow, FarmBot will utilize vision software, an onboard camera and a series of interchangeable tools to determine moisture content of the soil and efficiently water individual plants based on a regimen input to FarmBot by the students. In addition, the camera will be programmed by the students to locate weeds and then a tool will be deployed automatically to destroy the weeds.
The FarmBot project is being supervised by Upper School science teacher Dr. Doug Heller ’80 and is a complement to the aquaponics system introduced last year as another multi-disciplinary project-based learning opportunity. I hope you share the excitement of the science department as we bring this new addition to the Upper School campus.
Founded in 1903, Ransom Everglades School is a coeducational, college preparatory day school for grades 6 - 12 located on two campuses in Coconut Grove, Florida. Ransom Everglades School produces graduates who "believe that they are in the world not so much for what they can get out of it as for what they can put into it." The mission of Ransom Everglades School is to provide an educational environment in which the pursuit of honor, academic excellence and intellectual growth is complemented by concern for the physical, cultural and character development of each student. The school provides rigorous college preparation that promotes the student's sense of identity, community, personal integrity and values for a productive and satisfying life, and prepares the student to lead and to contribute to society.