MegaQuests of the 21st Century #1: Feeding 9.5 billion people sustainable and healthy food by 2050

Caleb Harper is an Urban Agricultural Quester who built a fully networked farm – each plant had its very own IP address – of tomatoes, lettuce, and broccoli inside a fourth-floor lounge at the school’s famed Media Lab. Caleb wanted to prove he could use data in real time to optimise crop yields, boost nutrient density, and trim water consumption by 98 percent compared with traditional dirt farming. A bold quest which he achieved. Caleb believes the future of agriculture lies in urban farms, where plants will be grown in controlled environments close to consumers.

In his TED Talk Caleb makes a powerful point, holding up a juicing red ripe apple, he asks the audience: How old do you think it (the apple) is since when it was picked? Two weeks? Two months? Eleven months — the average age of an apple in a grocery store in the United States. And  it’s not much different in Europe or anywhere else in the world. We pick them, we put them in cold storage, we gas -with is toxic to humans-the cold storage, to slow down the process of the apple. How is it that none of you knew this? Why didn’t I know this? Ninety percent of the quality of that apple, all of the antioxidants, are gone by the time we get it. It’s basically a little ball of sugar. How did we get so information poor and how can we do better?


Caleb did two things: 1) he invented a food bot that looks a lot like a 3D-printer (see below) but is a lot cooler. 2) He open-sourced everything he was doing because he recognised that what’s been holding AgTech back is that none of the boxes and systems can talk to each other.


Caleb explains further: “There are about 30 points of sensing per plant. When you say, “I like the strawberries from Mexico,” you really like the strawberries from the climate that produced the expression that you like. So if you’re coding climate, this much CO2, this much O2 creates a recipe,  you’re coding the expression of that plant, the nutrition of that plant, the size of that plant, the shape, the color, the texture.” The opportunities become endless.

Inside a sixty square foot, farm bot Caleb and his team produced enough food to feed about 300 people once a month. Admittedly not a lot of food but they are learning and there’s a lot of interesting technology in the farm bot. And, as Caleb says, “the most interesting thing? Beautiful, white roots, deep, green colors and a monthly harvest. Is this a new cafeteria? Is this a new retail experience? Is this a new grocery store?”

OpenAg Food Computers, as he now calls them, “will serve as tools for users to experiment, innovate, hack, and grow. Every time users grow and harvest, they will contribute to a library of climate recipes that can be borrowed and scaled so that users around the world can gain access to the best and freshest foods.”

Here’s the future being created in front of our eyes because one day soon you could have a farm bot in your house or grocery store and in it we could programme or just download from the OpenAg platform, the exact climate that created the 2005 Burgundy vintage, widely considered the best for decades. “OpenAg is developing an open-source ecosystem that enables and promotes transparency, networked experimentation, education, and local production. Together, we hope to create sustainable, shared systems that will break down the barrier of entry and spark interest, conversation, and maybe even a revolution about the way we view food.” Sounds like a pretty grand quest to me.

Here’s why this innovation could be important for all of our futures, consider the following questions: How will we feed the 9.5 billion people inhabiting our beautiful blue planet earth by 2050? What can we do better to feed people in healthier more sustainable ways?

These are two questions TomorrowToday Global co-founder and Chief Exploration Officer Dean van Leeuwen is asking as part of writing his new book MegaQuests of the 21st Century.


According to National Geographic: “When we think about threats to the environment, we tend to picture cars and smokestacks, not dinner. But the truth is, our need for food poses one of the biggest dangers to the planet. Agriculture is among the greatest contributors to global warming, emitting more greenhouse gases than all our cars, trucks, trains, and airplanes combined. Farming is the thirstiest user of our precious water supplies and a major polluter, as runoff from fertilizers and manure disrupts fragile lakes, rivers, and coastal ecosystems across the globe.  The environmental challenges posed by agriculture are huge, and they’ll only become more pressing as we try to meet the growing need for food worldwide. But sheer population growth isn’t the only reason we’ll need more food. The spread of prosperity across the world, is driving an increased demand for meat, eggs, and dairy, boosting pressure to grow more corn and soybeans to feed more cattle, pigs, and chickens. If these trends continue, the double whammy of population growth and richer diets will require us to roughly double the amount of crops we grow by 2050.”


Bold innovative crazy ventures are required to craft solutions for this MegaQuest.

Following on from the success of his book Quest: Competitive Advantage and the Art of Leadership in the 21st Century, Dean is now exploring and writing about Mega challenges facing humanity and profiling the exciting adventurous quests being undertaken by vanguard organisations and leaders as they discover new ground, growth and competitive advantages.

Please write to Dean and share any ideas you have on challenges facing humanity in the 21st century or if you know of inspirational leaders and organisations making a difference.

Megaquests of the 21st Century:

  1. The quest to end ageing

  2. The quest to sustainably feed 9.5 billion people

  3. The quest to end all disease

  4. The quest for carbon free, pollution free energy

  5. The quest for the colonisation of Mars

  6. The quest for jobs in the machine age

  7. The quest to save our oceans

  8. The quest to end our addiction to plastic

  9. The quest for unlimited water

  10. The quest to control climate

  11. The quest to end inequality

  12. The quest to end wars

  13. The quest for truth

  14. The quest for women’s equality

  15. The quest for ??

What are the big challenges facing your world? What’s missing on this list, please let me know your thoughts:

As a precursor to the book MegaQuests of the 21st Century is already available as an inspirational keynote presentation and workshop and helps you to explore new leadership mindsets, opportunities and business models needed to be successful during this most amazing century.

To discover more contact [email protected]

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