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Using data to grow plants, Free.Tree is envisioned as an open-sourced knowledge database where the data consumers help grow the knowledge

Photo of Gene Yllanes
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Team Crushing It

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small company (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.


Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 1-3 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Newport News, VA

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United States

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

The international spaceship and every house in the world, covers an area of 7m^2

What country is your selected Place located in?

United States

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

Our initial place is small and distributed throughout every kitchen on this planet and beyond. We selected this Place because we believe the closer we are to our food, the more nourishing it will be and the more responsible we will feel for it's growth. 

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

We are all familiar with our homes. The international space station, on the other hand, is much more akin to a submarine, where not one ounce is put to waste. Although we start from humble beginnings, our goal is use this knowledge and practice to grow food in places such as space.

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

As of now, our knowledge of food growing is limited when compared to our knowledge of facial recognition or speech-to-text. Every single day, big data analyzes inputs and outputs to optimize these systems for social media, but can we say the same about the way we grow food?

Right now, farmers use whatever means necessary to grow food the fastest way, most of the time at the cost of sustainability. This has resulted in the proliferation of GMO's, nitrogen-rich additives and bee-killing pesticides, most of which we are just realizing the impact of. None of this is quite sustainable for a population of 7 billion. Hence why we are discussing how to deal with food with a much greater population in 2050.

The biggest challenge that Free.Tree faces now is that we do not have enough seeds planted; seeds of data. There is no sustainable way of measuring food growth data the same way that we measure speech-to-text; atleast not yet. Companies like Google have created models to classify certain plants and it ends at that. 

What will the future of 2050 look like if we know more about recognizing our faces than how we eat? Mad Max and Terminator look more and more possible. 

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Our vision is to develop an open-sourced knowledge database of food growth that is grown through a distributed network of consumers. What does that mean? It means that the growers consuming this data are the people inputting the data for a more accurate and optimized growth model.
By developing a sustainable system for measuring the inputs and outputs of our food, we can bring food growing to the 21st century. 

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

With a clearer understanding of the way we grow our food, what inputs result in the greatest output, we can then start changing the way people consume food. Instead of one large, centralized source, we could grow food at a much more distributed level, perhaps even in your kitchen. It doesn't mean we can do this tomorrow, but what if we transformed our lives to a point where a room just for growing food was the norm, built using the technological insights and food systems that we have developed in the last 10 years alone? With data, the future looks much more sustainable.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

Some say 'nothing in this life is free,' and yet our modern times would disagree. Some of the richest people in this world give the majority of their profits away. Companies like Tesla completely open source their innovations and now every almost every single major car manufacture is going electric. Driven not only by the free share of knowledge, but also by the insights gleaned from data analytics, we have the vision of an open-sourced knowledge base that aims to reinvent the way we grow and consume food in our homes and beyond.

Free.Tree was built out of the vision of a system where one would freely plant their knowledge, their 'seed', into a place where others could grow this knowledge and eventually branch off. Although this was originally envisioned as a way to transfer knowledge to one another (i.e a more hands-on form of Khan Academy like Music.Tree) the first iteration of this vision flourished into a much more literal product; food growing.

So how did we get to this point? What were the signals of change? Perhaps the biggest indicator was the influence of data in the last 10 years, seeing how using data could not only provide better results in word suggestions, or voice recognition, but how data has literally taken business by the horns and completely disrupted almost every field. Now is the time where we take data to the  field where our food comes from, and it starts with a simple way to collect data and apply the results.

Imagine, someone grows the same plant, perhaps a vertical farm or a micro-greenery. Each time, the variables are controlled, measured. This much water, for this much time, with this much light. These are the inputs into the system. How do we measure the outputs? Using something as simple as a picture, factors such as number of leaves, size of the plant, greenness of the leaves can be captured.

Now take these inputs and outputs, repeat over 100 cycles, we have everything we need to start training a system; enough data to plant a seed. With this data now, a grower could benefit from the data which indicates that this much light with this much water results in this much greener and healthier plant.

The vision here is that the consumer would then give back to this knowledge base by sharing data about their plants growth. To encourage that, we imagined a set of tools that would standardize growing; an aeroponics growbox with a device that measures and controls the inputs and outputs. The person who is benefitting from this data would then become someone that is giving back to this knowledge base.

What does this mean for the year 2050? Why is this the future?

The reality is that by 2050, desertification will ravage our existing food systems and sea level rise will force communities to condense and water supplies to take salt. We can be certain that Elon Musk will be closer to inhabiting Mars, and nations will be competing more than ever for limited resources. This has sparked initiatives like this to tackle these challenges, to envision a way we can all coexist and flourish. We no choice but to start planning now to deal with these challenges here on earth and beyond.

This gives us all the more reason to understand the world that we live in and the food that we consume. We at Team Crushing It believe that the innovations of the past decade are not limited to social media and stock markets; we believe that studying food with data is the ultimate answer to the problems we face with sustainability.

Our vision is to create a resource where the world can study and learn how to grow food, and it starts with a free and open-sourced knowledge base. Where this may lead, automation, aeroponics, we can only guess; but can all agree on data and research as a solution.

Our goal is simple; become the standard against how all food is sustainably grown, and build a system where the consumers are providing the knowledge to ultimately makes this database grow. All started from someone planting a seed, Free.Tree aims to grow and build a resource for the world, and beyond.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Website


Join the conversation:

Photo of Dr. Kelly Gehlhoff

Great idea. We all need to share data to make these sort of tech solutions actually spread fast enough to make a difference this century.... A platform for data collection not biased towards big companies who fund and own it will be key to unlocking true innovative capabilities.

Photo of Gene Yllanes

Thank you for taking the time to validate this vision! I think everyone can agree on research as the solution and I look forward to applying the newest research tools to this field

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