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When Software Meets Sorrel: Brave New Garden?
updated: May 14, 2011, 10:00 AM

By Billy Goodnick

I think it would be cool to have my name spoken in the same breath as brilliant futurists like Stephen Hawking, Alvin Toffler, and Buckminster Fuller.

Futurists predict global trends, emerging markets, and plausible scenarios that will affect everyone on the planet. They show up on cool PBS science shows, and school kids write reports about them. If they're smart, they make predictions with 200-year lead times, so their critics can't beat up on them for getting it bass-ackward.

I might well be a futurist too! Consider this exchange with my soul brother, Owen Dell. We were talking about the fabulous food exchange networks sprouting up around Santa Barbara, like pre-germinated radish seeds.

The idea is simple: People who grow food at home exchange their surplus with neighbors, sharing eggs, fruits, veggies, flowers, herbs, recipes, seeds, seedlings and secret potions. At the same time, they build community by meeting their neighbors. There are twelve exchanges in our area, under the umbrella of Santa Barbara Food Not Lawns.

What does this have to do with me becoming a legend? Well, as Owen and I were praising the value of food exchanges, I wondered aloud what would happen to them if there were no surplus. "What if everyone's garden provided exactly the amount of produce they needed, exactly when they wanted it?"

"No surplus?" scoffed Owen. "Ludicrous! What about the inexhaustable zucchini plant that mysteriously - and some say, with sinister intent - births scores of Goodyear blimps the moment you turn your back on it?" That's no urban legend; he had a point.

"Or those generous-to-a-fault Arctic Supreme peach trees groaning and bending with hundreds of red-over-cream skinned globes of sugary goodness?" (I'm paraphrasing.)

That's when this budding futurist had his brain-drizzle.

A few years ago, Microsoft, in a well-orchestrated media blitz, announced the development of Microsoft Kitchen. This blog excerpt from Mary-Jo Foley's June 6, 2007 "All About Microsoft" states:

Among the features Microsoft is planning to make part of its forthcoming kitchen-computing environment are a family calendar, recipe center, entertainment features and a shared bulletin board.

They're not kidding. They really think like that. I'm feeling much better knowing we'll have another electronic device near the sink.

Whether this paradigm-shifting, technological breakthrough makes it onto our kitchen countertops or not, I see a great opportunity for developing and marketing Microsoft iVeGGieGarden, a modular add-on for MS Kitchen. (Note the improper use of upper and lower case letters - that means it's really hi-tech.) Here's how my brainchild will work. When the program is installed, the GPS software uploads your exact location, soil type, and date of last frost (unless you're in Santa Barbara where we can grow year round - just thought I'd rub it in for my Vladivostok readers). Imagery from the Hubble telescope calculates the surface area you'll be planting, while the biological mass of bugs, worms, organic matter, and beneficial fungi are measured by thousands of sensors you've buried under your plot.

Back at the kitchen command post, you'll input your dining preferences, including favorite ethnic foods (make mine Moroccan), dietary restrictions, allergies, vitamin deficiencies, affiliations with animal rights organization, phobias, etc.

When the calendar screen pops up, input your meal plan for the coming year. Sure, it's torture just pulling together your Trader Joe's list for this week, let alone know what's gonna float your boat come November. But for my paradigm-shifting project to work, we need to be looking to the horizons.

Clicking the PLACE ORDER NOW icon starts a kaleidoscopic light show snaking across your monitor. Steam erupts from the hard-drive. At a blistering 830 gigathings per nanosomething, iVeGGieGarden searches an international database of seed catalogs and mail order nurseries, accesses your Visa account, and places a hold order on everything you'll use in the next year, including bales of dried Malaysian kelp, composted emu feathers, and cannibalistic gophers (better to have just one slow-moving Jabba).

Using just-in-time-manufacturing strategies, seeds and cuttings are precision-delivered via e-mail. (My tech crew is beta testing technology for downloading the attachment.) No more chaos from half-empty seed packets shoved into your underwear drawer.

Now for the magical part of the equation: Every night while you sleep, iVeGGieGarden resets your alarm clock to awaken you just before the rooster crows (eArlyRiser is an optional feature, but selecting it adds verisimilitude to the whole urban homesteading mystique), so you can slap on your bib overalls, stumble to the garden and plant precisely the right number of seeds in the perfect spot, guided by the robotic laser pointer mounted on your roof.

In my futurist scenario, computers will control the weather. So it's really not a big stretch to see that my software system will be able to predict to the ounce, the number and size of tomatoes you'll need on August 23, for that basil, tomato, and bufalo mozzarella antipasto salad you had a hankering for 243 days ago.

On the appointed day, you'll walk down garden aisle 4B to grid module 34/17 and pluck seven sun-ripened Bloody Butcher heirloom tomatoes, twelve ounces of Purple Ruffles basil, and tap the extra-virgin olive oil tree for three tablespoons of golden-green nectar.

I'm sure there are still a few details to work out, but we futurists leave those niggling details to the programming droids sequestered beneath our corporate office towers.

Writer's Note: This column will be on a short hiatus while I arrange my travel plans for the Nobel Prize ceremony in Oslo. After a quick world tour and shooting my PBS Nova episode, I'll get back to predicting a brave new future for my devoted followers. I'm thinking chia seed-covered hovercraft.

Comments in order of when they were received | (reverse order)

 COMMENT 173340 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-05-15 10:00 AM

So, Billy, the enjoyment of spending time browsing seed and catalogs during winter, or a spinner rack full of cool herbs veggie and flower seeds at the nursery, will be supplanted (urp!) by a computer?

Just like newspapers, seed racks will be a relic of a past era, and I'll be out of a job? Think of those botanical illustrators that will be thrown out of work, the copywriters who will be selling violets on the street corner, the lack of personal interaction with the seed lady as she goes about her job of making sure There Are No Outs during the spring frenzy--it's a conspiracy, I tell you.

But I find the prospect of cannibalistic voles (in my case) very tantalizing, I must admit.


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