Patel (12) explores precision agriculture in independent study

Emily Sun and Athena Rem

Arya Patel (12) presented her independent study: “Better Farming: Big Data and Precision Agriculture” on Thursday. Patel chose this topic because she has been interested in the environment since elementary school, she said.

When she was in ninth grade, Patel visited a sugarcane factory in India that sparked her interest in how agriculture manifests itself in New York City. Her questions about farming eventually led her to explore rooftop gardens, a simple but effective way to incorporate agriculture into an urban environment, she said. After visiting The Brooklyn Grange, three rooftop gardens in Brooklyn and Queens, Patel was inspired to build a garden of her own atop Lutnick Hall.

Director of Independent Study Avram Schlesinger said that because Patel initially developed her interest in the topic outside the school, her passion for the topic shines through.

To elevate her understanding of the layout for rooftop gardens, Patel used satellite imagery to make 3D renderings of her favorite agricultural spaces in the city. She also spoke with Isa Moise ’15, who works at Oko Farms in Brooklyn. Oko Farms is an organization that centers agriculture on aquaponics, a system where aquatic waste is recycled to provide nutrients for growing plants. In practicing aquaponics, Oko Farms works to reduce the impact of climate change while also increasing food security. 

Moise taught Patel about how rooftop gardens in the city compensate for the lack of land for a traditional farm. This method repurposes unused land to foster a community based on agriculture, Patel said. 

“Most of us are surrounded by concrete everyday,” Patel said. “[Urban farmers] are showing that [agriculture in a city] is not a utopia or a fantasy, it’s a reality.”

In addition to rooftops, which require extensive organization, planning, and ownership of  the land, Patel found more accessible methods of urban agriculture such as hydroponic gardens, which grow plants in water with dissolved minerals instead of in soil. 

After learning about these gardens, Patel made her own hydroponic garden with the help of her advisor, Assistant Director of John Dorr Nature Laboratory Nick DePreter. DePreter used his experience working at Dorr to suggest various types of plants and different methods of growth for Patel to use. 

While Patel was not able to build her original rooftop garden on Lutnick Hall because of logistical reasons, she used the skills she developed over the course of the project to design it. She showcased her research from both semesters during Green Week, specifically focusing on precision agriculture and the Satellite Image Process (SIP).

There are a triad of benefits to precision agriculture, Patel said. For farmers, it maximizes productivity, conserves resources, and saves time and money, allowing consumers access to cheaper produce. Precision agriculture is also more environmentally-friendly than traditional agriculture because it reduces the amount of chemicals, fertilizer, and water that farmers use to grow crops, Patel said. She also explained the four steps of SIP which include data collection, processing, analysis, and application.

In the second half of her presentation, Patel focused on farming in India, tracing its history of agriculture from traditional farming before 1950 to E-agriculture in the 2000s.  According to her presentation, food production must double by 2050 to match the country’s population growth and alleviate food shortages; new methods of farming such as urban and precision agriculture are crucial in combating climate change in India and around the globe, she said.

“[Her presentation] sheds light on the fact that food security is a big deal for a lot of people,” DePreters said. “It couldn’t be better that she’s doing it during Green Week.”