VR Could Make Farming More Appealing to City Dwellers

Experience the country life without leaving home

Key Takeaways

  • A new virtual reality simulation is intended to introduce newbies to urban farming. 
  • Cornell researchers used drones to create a virtual model of Red Hook Farms, an urban agriculture and food justice program in Brooklyn. 
  • But not everyone thinks that donning a VR headset will make you a farmer.
Closeup on a child holding seeds in the palm of their hand above the dirt of an urban garden.

Christian Meyer Design / Getty Images

Would-be urban farmers are getting a taste of country life thanks to virtual reality (VR). 

New York City's Brooklyn is a long way from cornfields, but it may be a little closer due to the efforts of researchers at Cornell University. The scientists claim to have created the most advanced VR urban farm tour ever made. The new software is part of an effort to use VR to broaden the appeal of farming. 

"It provides a middle ground between an in situ experience and a virtual meeting allowing for remote education but with context and detail that is usually missing from online engagements," Tapan Parikh, associate professor of computer and information science at Cornell, told Lifewire in an email interview. Parikh is a co-author of the paper, "Greening the Virtual City: Accelerating Peer-to-Peer Learning in Urban Agriculture with Virtual Reality Environments," recently published in the journal Frontiers in Sustainable Cities.

Home on the Virtual Range

The Cornell researchers used drones to create a virtual model of Red Hook Farms, an urban agriculture and food justice program in Brooklyn. 

Users can view the platform with a VR headset and through a computer or mobile phone. Ambient sound will add to the experience of being at the farm. 

Users will "walk" around the farm and enter areas with demo and instructional videos led by farm managers. These videos will show aspects of farm production, such as cultivation, composting, and weeding.

"We are using embedded videos, game mechanics, and enhanced 3D models of the farm and various crops and equipment to provide both a realistic experience as well as additional features and functionality," Parikh said. 

The goal of the simulation is to connect farmers, improve agricultural education, and introduce new participants to the world of agriculture. Cornell has historically catered to rural farming interests, but interest in urban farming is growing. 

Urban farming is growing plants and raising animals in and around towns, cities, and urban environments. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, urban agriculture is practiced by 800 million people worldwide. 

Koron Smiley, a Red Hook farm manager and a co-author of the paper, is a former video gamer who sees the use of VR in urban agriculture as a way of reaching new audiences that bridge the tech world with farming.

"Virtual reality creates more exposure that goes outside your area as well," he said in a news release. "Virtual Reality is a way to show another perspective of the farm, especially to people who may not know about it, who are more into virtual reality and may not go outside as much."

Someone wearing a VR headset while standing in the middle of a field.

Sergei Tolmachev / EyeEm / Getty Images

Game Your Way to Crop Yields

Those yearning for a more rural life can turn to game farming simulations like Farming Simulator 16 that's available on the Google Play store. You can plant, grow, harvest, and sell five different crops, raise cows and sheep, and sell timber at your own pace.

"Given the recent loss of farmers in our country (age, costs of land, etc.), providing a VR experience of farming would help incentivize a new generation of farmers to help determine their future and spur innovation and exploration in this area," Michael Cassens, an assistant professor of gaming and interactive media and Director of ESports at the University of Montana told Lifewire in an email interview. "The ultimate goal is to bring more young people into the field." 

But not everyone thinks that donning a VR headset will make you a farmer. 

"Teaching farming through VR is like teaching someone how to give birth or raise a child through VR," Patrick Lydon, director of the City as Nature, an urban ecology studio, said in an email interview. "The more cost, time, and energy-efficient way would be to put farms into every public school and get those hands in the soil." 

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