The Growing Connection – Applying High Tech to World Hunger

What do Google, Wired Magazine, the band Wilco, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, The University of Ghana, the Galloping Gourmet and the United Nations all have in common?

They all have or have had some involvement in a truly unique grass-roots initiative called “The Growing Connection”. The Growing Connection is a grassroots project developed by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations supported by the folks listed above and many other private and public sector partners.

  • The Growing Connection links people and cultures in a revolutionary campaign that introduces low-cost water efficient and sustainable food growing innovations hand in hand with access to technology and information via existing and emerging technologies. It provides a sound educational foundation, and offers hundreds of families, both in America and abroad, a concrete opportunity to earn income and climb out of desperation. Perhaps most important, The Growing Connection engages people – a network of committed individuals – in an elegant solution to one of man’s fundamental challenges.


  • How does it work? School gardening programs and community gardens around the world grow vegetables in an EarthBox system. that becomes a common growing platform for all participants. Students grow food, conduct horticultural experiments and share their lessons and experiences with each other using IT connectivity. Through modern IT installations,
  • The Growing Connection participants in a number of countries are directly linked. And importantly, they are also connected to sources of vital information and advice on growing food. Those once the most isolated can now grow, learn, and chose their own opportunities and destinies.


I’ve known about this program for years, and over that time, have seen more and more people get involved in one way or another. With this in mind, it is understandable that while watching Dean Kamen talk about his “water machine” on the Colbert Report, I got fixated on thinking about how the availibility of fresh drinking water (and water for crops) as well as a reliable supply of fresh, safe food, will indeed change the world.

Never before in human history has this been the case. What has been the case, however, is that the formation of each and every sophisticated and robust society in history started with the reliable availability of food and water. (Basically the premise that when people arent’ focused on where their next meal comes from, they can work on other things).

I think I am getting ahead of myself here….

So on a micro-level, how do individuals and businesses help to make a difference in the world? More specifically, how can people like you and me help to make the availability of fresh reliable food a reality for the billion or so folks in our world where it is not?

I suppose it is just about getting involved in one way or another. Every little bit helps… and I’ve listed out some of the ways I’ve seen people applying innovation to help out The Growing Connection:

Wired Magazine – NextFest 2006


When Wired magazine put on NextFest in New York in 2006, they provided a Growing Connection exhibit. This exhibit, pictured above, relied on fresh food grown using the EarthBox system employed in the Growing Connection program. Hundreds (or maybe thousands) of corn stalks and other herbs and vegetables were grown by Philson Warner’s students from New York City.

Google, Inc – Growing Connection Garden

Everyone in the tech industry has heard about the great gourmet lunches that are served up for Google employees. Having eaten in the Google cafeterias, I can personally vouch for this! Where do these fresh and tasty veggies come from? Would you believe that there is an official “Growing Connection Garden” at Google?

The Garden consists of 100 EarthBoxes all planted with vegetables and herbs from different regions of the world. The Garden was planned in cooperation with the Chefs at Google, and made possible with support from Google and the Master Gardeners of Santa Clara County and volunteers from Google, University of California – Cooperative Extension, EarthBox, and TGC.

Rhazes Spell, one of my best pals and co-workers has come up with a concept that would provide for data capture and data visualization of Earthbox performance (soil conditions, oxygen / co2 levels, etc, etc). His idea is directly related to the Open Source project that we are both involved with: The Merapi Project

The idea would be to build an external hardware device that could be placed in the soil and transmit data either wired or wireless, back to a monitoring machine that used Merapi to push information to an Adobe AIR software application that was Web connected. This would allow for real-time data capture from Earthboxes across the globe, with a single user interface for data analysis.

If you take it one step further, you find yourself at Ken Waagner’s ultimate vision for the community and social content aspects of The Growing Connection.

Imagine children (and adults) from across the globe working together to learn about food production and sharing tips, ideas and information about their experiences that can benefit others.

There is really no end to the impact that people can make if they only try. As more and more people find themselves drawn to helping out The Growing Connection, perhaps these next few years will be monumental in solving the problem of world hunger. If Dean Kamen can bring water to the world and The Growing Connection can help bring the food…

Well, that would be amazing.

Want to get involved? You can donate to The Growing Connection, contact me so I can put you in touch with Rhazes, reach out to Ken Waagner and let him know how you want to get involved, or contact The Growing Connection folks at the UN.