Tucked inside an Overland office park, MARSfarm is changing the way people across the world learn about agriculture. By bringing countertop-sized greenhouses to classrooms, the agtech company is helping students from elementary schools to research universities better understand plant science and greenhouse management.
The idea for the company, which launched three years ago, began seven years ago when Peter Webb, co-founder and CEO, and Drew Thomas, co-founder and chief operating officer, met with a group of fellow St. Louisans to brainstorm about open-source hardware and software for plant-growth chambers. That led to the creation of a $300 “food computer” that, Webb says, he initially expected to be purchased by hobbyists and citizen scientists. “We didn’t expect a demand from the education market,” he says.
Yet today MARSfarm technology is in classrooms from St. Louis to South Africa, spanning nearly 600 schools across 12 countries. Customers range from STEM-oriented research institutions studying the confluence of plant and data science to rural high schools preparing their students to run the farms of the future.
“For many schools, maintaining an existing or buying a new greenhouse is a couple hundred-thousand-dollar capital expense,” Webb says. “So more schools are opting to not have a greenhouse (on campus) but still have these agricultural programs.”
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