University of Maine students are developing an app to revolutionize greenhouse farming


By Ramona du Houx

New media undergraduates at UMaine are developing an innovative monitoring app, MAGAPP, to serve local Maine greenhouses for the Sustainable Year-Round Agriculture Cluster Initiative by the Maine Sustainable Agriculture Society. 

“Keeping food production active through colder months is an expensive proposition but new combined renewable heating and energy options, along with improved insulation are helping make the whole system for growers more efficient and cost effective,” said Joline Blais, associate professor of new media about the project.

Blais and her team were one of nine projects awarded an Interdisciplinary Undergraduate Research Collaborative (IURC) grant in 2018. The team of undergraduates are working across multiple platforms from computer science to graphic design. “We think that interdisciplinary models are the way of problem solving for the future and is great to see new media so interconnected with UMaine’s original land grant mission on this project,” said Blais.

Once completed the app will be able to test temperature, humidity, soil saturation and many other conditions that are important to maintaining a greenhouse. Farmers will be able to control these factors from the app in real time. MAGAPP is expected to be functioning by the end of spring.

“My experience in interdisciplinary arts at UMaine combined with my work as a small vegetable farmer in Knox and Hancock Counties left me hungry to get UMaine’s different departments collaborating on food-related engineering projects that address the most urgent issues for Maine,” said Bill Giordano, SYRA data coordinator.

Students learn more about the sensors in the Roger Clapp Greenhouse on campus, as they experience the hands-on applications of the technology. SYRA also has set up sensors in four greenhouses off campus to collect data while they develop and test MAGAPP.

New media students, are developing the app with the assistance of Darius Haskell, a UMaine Presque Isle (UMPI) undergraduate of math, and Larry Feinstein, UMPI assistant professor of biology. The inter-disciplinary team schedules weekly meetings and designates the responsibilities amongst each other.

“For me, what is most beneficial is being able to work with people with such different strengths. People have different things they’re good at on our team, so I’m able to see that and work with that and learn new things along the way,” Bennett, a third-year student from Windham, Maine. She designs the user experience for MAGAPP and develops how the app is organized for the consumer.

Blais and her team hope to use MAGAPP to develop a new industry in Maine and keep college graduates in the state. They hope to inspire people to start their own businesses once the app is fully developed.

“There’s a lot of opportunity to create something unique in Maine. I think being a part of a startup is really interesting – particularly when we get to work and meet with the very people who will be using these technologies,” said Yoder is a third-year student from Penobscot, Maine who loves his home state. He hopes to stay and help create new industry in the state.

Blais thinks the development of this app will contribute to a sustainable future for Maine farmers as well as the tech youth who support them.“It would really be great if we have little clusters of small businesses with students that come out of new media programs that know how to program sensors, build these apps and repair them while helping farmers. We don’t want farmers beholden to large corporations,” she said.

This technology will allow farmers to monitor and control the heat and light, resulting in critical energy savings.

 “This could change the country or the world. The potential is completely immeasurable right now and that’s what’s so exciting about it. It’s such a new concept,” said Lampinen is a third-year student from York, Maine. He is developing the app through coding and setting up how the data will be stored.