Over the past 100 years, the practices of agriculture have been radically altered in Western societies, spurred by development and application of a host of technologies designed to automate and monitor food production. Recently, however, many have called attention to the shortcomings of mainstream farming endeavors — large-scale agri-business may be producing more food, but the food itself is lacking in nutrition and the environment is suffering from these very farming practices.
What is needed is a return to local and small-scale agriculture for both environmental and personal health concerns. Engineering and design played a role in advancing the culture and practices of agri-business by producing products, systems, and services to advance and support large-scale corporate farming. The question we ask is, Can design and engineering now play a role in shifting us towards more sustainable modes of agriculture? What kinds of products, services and systems would need to be designed and engineered to enable that subversion and shift? How will technologies of automation and monitoring need to be refigured for these contexts – if indeed they are still at all useful? The growBot garden project explores these questions by bringing together designers, artists, farmers and other food producers to ask: How might robotics and sensing technologies be used in support of local small-scale agriculture?
The growBot garden project is structured around a series of public and participatory workshops that bring together diverse constituencies to critically think about, discuss and debate, and re-make our near-term future. The workshops draw equally from practices of participatory design, critical design, social practice art, and hacking. More than a discursive platform, the workshops are design platforms: opportunities to collectively make speculative representations and prototypes of possible futures. These representations and prototypes are documented and shared through public forums to provoke consideration of new assemblages that might emerge at the intersection of technology and agriculture.