FarmBot Project

Project Overview

Project Type: Youth Educator
Funds awarded in 2020: $4,000.00
Projected End Date: 01/31/2022
Grant Recipient: University of Illinois 4H Extension
Region: North Central
State: Illinois
Project Manager:
Mark Becker
University of Illinois 4H Extension
Project Co-Managers:
Erin Harper
University of Illinois Extension


Not commodity specific


  • Crop Production: agroforestry, beekeeping
  • Education and Training: demonstration, youth education
  • Farm Business Management: apprentice/intern training, community-supported agriculture
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems
  • Soil Management: soil analysis
  • Sustainable Communities: community services, urban/rural integration


    Through the existing infrastructure of the U of I Sustainable Student Farm, Illinois 4-H, and Horticulture educators will collaborate to deliver engaging educational opportunities to college and high school-age youth around the state of Illinois. Utilizing FarmBot open-source precision gardening technology, we are supporting U of I Crop Science & Agriculture Education students to develop the functional and educational capacity of the FarmBot for application in school and community-based settings. Working with Illinois 4-H, the students will assist in creating a guide for hands-on and virtual learning to youth interested in precision agriculture, digital agriculture, and the application of sustainable technology in food systems. 

    The majority of the allotted budget was spent to support our Crop Science student intern who was responsible for the prototyping, development, and field testing of the FarmBot capabilities as well as compiling a comprehensive guide for field use for our 5 participating partner sites around Illinois. The remaining portion of the funds was utilized providing material support (gardening supplies, tools & seeds) to our partner sites, which included: 

    • University of Illinois NOBEL Project - An initiative through the U of I School of Medicine geared at engaging African American youth in several Illinois cities. The FarmBot equipment and programmatic support were focused specifically on the Pembrook community in Kankakee County, IL. An estimated 30 youth will be participating in a virtual 6-week program beginning in June 2021. 
    • Elevate 217 - A recently established non-profit in rural Mattoon, IL focused on encouraging the growth of small businesses and local entrepreneurship particularly for rural youth through innovative programming both virtually and on-site. They have a FarmBot located inside of a large retail mall and are planning to utilize grow lights for indoor food production. Our team coordinates with students from Mattoon High School in the construction and use of the equipment. Completion of construction is expected in June 2021 with youth programming beginning in July 2021.
    • Jackey Joyner Kersee Center- East St. Louis, IL: The JJK Center is an after school program for East St. Louis youth that offers a wide variety of academic, athletic, and life-skills training courses. Their FarmBot equipment is located in their urban garden and will be a teaching tool for a group of 15-20 young people interested in sustainable agriculture during the Summer of 2021. 
    • Urban Transformation Network- Chicago, IL: The Urban Transformation Network’s mission is to support and encourage the establishment of urban gardens on unused land and space while increasing diversity, raising awareness for conservation education, urban agriculture, and wellness, and inspiring and educating youth, adults, and seniors to create an economically sustainable future in their community. They have set up a FarmBot inside of their high-tunnel greenhouse and we are coordinating with their team of youth to complete construction and begin food production in the Summer of 2021. 
    • The University of Illinois Ag and Biological Engineering Farm - Urbana, IL: In conjunction with a team of professors and graduate students from the ABE Department at the U of I, we are establishing a long-term research site at an indoor greenhouse location on campus where we will be working to identify the intersections between AI and Open Source approaches to the FarmBot technology. This partnership will allow us to continue to create educational content for our pilot sites around Illinois to utilize as they engage youth in their area with the FarmBot equipment. 

    Updated Timeline: 

    April-July 2021: 

    • Completing the training manual and accompanying video documentation to assist partner sites in constructing and utilizing FarmBot equipment. 
    • Conduct a statewide webinar on the educational material in July 2021. 

    August-December 2021: 

    • Provide ongoing support to our partner sites in the utilization of FarmBot equipment with their youth programs. 
    • Collect survey data and feedback at partner sites from program participants and facilitators. 



    Project objectives:

    1. Build the capacity of the U of I Sustainable Student Farm to reach Illinois youth with hands-on experiences that teach the skills/mindsets necessary to be successful in sustainable agriculture career choices. 
    2. Pilot an educational program that can then be used to reach Illinois 4-H youth around the state in sustainable and regenerative agriculture. 
    3. Allow Illinois 4-H and U of I Extension to reach new audiences with its programming, thereby increasing interest among youth in career/college/life opportunities connected to Sustainable Agriculture. 
    4. Demonstrate success in sustainable agriculture programming that can be replicated state/nationwide. 
    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.