Reducing food poverty with blinking led lights


A group of students from Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) has come up with an innovative method of bringing fresh food to the family table. It’s believed that a type of food poverty results from malnutrition due to the lack of access to nutritious food and the consumption of poor quality processed food.

According to Kelvin Gregory, a civil and environmental engineer of Engineer Without Borders (EWB), some people reside in ‘nutritional island’, areas with very low access to fresh produce such as fruits and vegetables and a reliance on prepackaged food.

Students from CMU believe that the use of vertical farming in combination with LED lights not only offers urban dwellers living in nutritional islands access to fresh food but can also be a solution for improving food scarcity in impoverished areas.

Vertical farming for fighting food poverty is not a novelty, however, the simplicity of the equipment used sets it apart, particularly the fact that it allows the use of the minimum light and energy for the production of fruits and vegetables.

A simple basic shelf that resembles a bookshelf is wired with lights and covered with black plastic tarp allows a family to grow fruits and vegetables in their home with very little if any carbon footprint.

Undergraduate Jack Ronayne, leading a team of students at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) used a new approach for indoor agriculture. The novelty resides in the type of light and specifically the manner the light is used.

The team went all over the world and identified different types of problems faced by communities and sought to provide engineering solutions to better their lives. Asking themselves that question, their research was based on energy efficiency to obtain the optimal amount of light with the least energy as possible that allows a plant to grow. The solution found was energy-efficient indoor agriculture to cater for the global population.

Using LED lighting and turning it on and off very rapidly at various speed, they were able to measure the amount of light necessary to grow big plants with very little energy. The use of LED lighting provides a better solution than halogen lighting since LED is very energy-efficient.

The implications for this new technique is that it can be used by families in impoverished areas as a method to grow food inside the household and have fresh provisions of fruits and vegetables on the table. The simple technique can allow a family to grow up to 40 tomato plants, and for smaller plants such as lettuce, the family can grow 100 or more plants.

Kelvin Gregory, the CMU professor who guided the study sees a wide application of the procedure not only in places of food scarcity but also in rich urban areas where nutritional islands exist. Such a method, says Gregory and the CMU chapter of Engineers Without Borders students, will provide access to fresh agricultural products to people all over the world regardless of their socioeconomic situation.

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