This picture shows Newstead's latest creation—a smaller, indoor version of the EarthTainer that he calls the InTainer. He set these up near a window last year, and—supplemented with nighttime grow lights—he was able to produce a bounty of tomatoes during the winter. This was something of a proof of concept; Newstead's real hope for the EarthTainer is that people will use the system in parts of the world where agriculture is now considered too difficult and expensive. People have set up EarthTainers in the blistering Australian outback, the Arizona desert, Manhattan skyscrapers, and in various parts of Africa. A few years ago, a group of volunteers built a battalion of EarthTainers for an orphanage in Haiti. "I can live without tomatoes," Newstead says, "but for lots of people around the world, it's live-or-die. Now they can finally grow something where they couldn't before."
I'll be taking the next few weeks off from my regular Slate column while I research my upcoming series on how robots are stealing humans' jobs. Robots will be writing my column while I'm gone.