Archive for November, 2011

When we started gardening back in the ’80s, it was mainly a way to feed our family better, fresher and cheaper food than we could get at the grocery store. Add a little concern for the environment in there and that was basically it.

Who knew then that gardening would become the meeting point of so many big political and social issues? Farm subsidies, corporate control of the food supply, school lunch programs, city codes, you name it. If you garden enough to read about it much, you’re going to keep finding all kinds of connections. You come to expect them.

There is one connection I wasn’t prepared for, though.

Robots. Gardens and robots.

As I was looking around on Wired.com this weekend, I came across this story entitled, “These may be the Droids Farmers are Looking For.”

Farmers are looking for droids? I had no idea.

But then that’s because I come at gardening from the individual perspective. Part of the pleasure of it (in addition to beating back food corporations that want more of my money) is getting in touch with nature and Mother Earth and all those hippie sounding things. It seems to me you get into gardening to escape the droids that inhabit your office life.

Then I remembered all those teenage summers detasseling corn. How truckloads of high schoolers wearing garbage bags with holes cut out for the arms and head (to keep us dry from the dew) would plod through the mud in the suffocating airless heat amongst the  8-foot corn stalks, taking out every tassel in the “female” rows.  Just a few years later, I’d heard that most of the crews were replaced by machine detasselers.

Yeah. Farmers are looking for droids. Always have been.

In the Wired story, cute little robots grab potted shrubbery at a nursery and line them up a few feet away.  This is a back-breaking job that takes a lot of expensive manpower. Apparently, landscaping businesses and the stores that supply them have been trying for years to automate.

So I guess it’s no surprise, really, that robotics is a continuing interest when it comes to agriculture. Anything that will improve the bottom line in tough times is going to be pursued. And it brings in a bunch more uncomfortable issues. Fair pay and immigration policies, to name a couple.

I’m torn, though. I have to admit that I’ve always been a tiny bit comforted that certain aspects of farming have defied automation. I always thought of it as nature’s way of keeping us in our place.

Yet low-paying farm work is mind-numbingly hard. An eight-hour day detasseling or walking beans was exhausting. I couldn’t wait for the season to be over. And those are probably cushy farm jobs, compared to what else is out there.

Robot gardeners, wheeling up to plants and administering water and fertilizer like so many Roombas…Sure, it could be the future. But will the plants like it? Or will the corn grow better if a human being whispers into it’s ears?

I haven’t seen any science on that yet.

Posted by: Roxie


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