Smart urban aquaponics in West Oakland

We recently took a close look at how an organic aquaponic farmer living in South Carolina uses custom-built sensors based on Arduino boards to monitor the delicate balance between water and soil.

Living in West Oakland, Eric Maundu may be quite a distance from the Carolinas, but he is also a farmer, albeit in a landscape covered with freeways, roads, light rail and parking lots. There isn’t much arable land in West Oakland and empty lots are often filled with contaminated soil. So Maundu, who is also trained in industrial robotics, has turned to smart aquaponics.

Specifically, Maundu employs Arduino-based sensors to monitor water levels, pH and temperature, along with social media networks like Twitter and Facebook to provide alerts and updates in real time.

“I feel knowledge of electronics and software programming makes me a better farmer than just having a hoe. Gardens that can communicate for themselves using the Internet can lead to exchanging of ideas in ways that were not possible before,” Maundu told FairCompanies.

“I can test, for instance, whether the same tomato grows better in Oakland or the Sahara Desert given the same conditions. Then I can share the same information with farmers in Iceland and China.”

Maundu also runs Kijani Grows (“Kijani” is Swahili for green), a small startup that designs and sells custom smart aquaponics systems for growing food. According to Maundu, putting gardens online in cities is the only way to ensure farming remains viable to future generations of urban youth.

“The next generation; honestly I don’t see them having access to traditional farms so we have to start arming them with technologies where they can go colonize places like in West Oakland that no one uses, rooftops,” he explained.

“We [also] want them to start thinking about them from when they’re kids so as they use their computers, as they use their phones as they write those little ‘Hello [World!]’ programs to know that I can write ‘Hello Garden’ programs, to know that hey, I’m using my device to create food for me.”

As previously discussed on Bits and Pieces, Atmel microcontrollers are the silicon of choice for the Arduino platform, both in their AVR flavor and ARM varieties. Clearly, Arduino is continuing to democratize hardware in a way that allows anyone – young or old, engineer or not, rich or poor – to design anything they can imagine.

9 thoughts on “Smart urban aquaponics in West Oakland

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