‘Nerd farmers’ in the Panhandle: Engineering students building food computer for agriculture industry

‘Nerd farmers’ in the Panhandle: Engineering students building food computer for agriculture industry
Local engineering students at the Amarillo Area Center for Advanced Learning are building a food computer to grow plants using climate data from around the world. (Jami Seymore)

AMARILLO, TX (KFDA) - Students at the Amarillo Area Center for Advanced Learning are thinking outside the farm when it comes to agriculture in the Panhandle.

"There's been a lot of droughts recently in the Panhandle and so we figured we could figure out a new way of growing different foods,” said Allton Montano, a senior at AACAL and Tascosa High School. “Something that's not really easier, but more cost effective."

Based on research from MIT, the students hope to use a food computer to grow plants using climate data from around the world. Instead of soil, they plan to use aeroponics.

"It saves 90 percent of the water. It's not being soaked up by the soil and evaporated, and grows food five times faster,” said Bay Thompkins, a senior at AACAL and Tascosa High. “It could really help boom the farming industry in Amarillo and all around the Panhandle."

Montano and Thompkins, along with student Luis Contreras, have studied the innovative practice closely and plan to build their own food computer, along with help from local farmer Charles Dooley and local entrepreneur Tracy Shea.

"Knowing the capabilities of the Panhandle region, we've got great tradesmen, we've got great transportation, we've got great agricultural knowledge, a great small business community,” said Shea. “We thought that by seeding this technology with AACAL, we can start to grow an entire industry."

Given a "seed money" grant from Plains Land Bank, the students now have the funds to order the parts and start building the food computer. The students hope to have the first phase done by the end of the semester and the second phase complete before graduation in the spring.

"That is enough to buy all the parts that we need to build the food computer so within the next few weeks we're planning on ordering all of the parts,” said Montano.

Nerd farmers in the Panhandle: Engineering students building food computer for agriculture industry

For Shea, it's exciting to see students take an interest in local industries and ways to improve them.

"Not only is it exciting to see a concept go from a plan to a picture to a device but to see young people get involved and catch a vision then want to take that to the next level,” said Shea.

A new generation bringing new life to the Panhandle.

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