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This Milk Production Was Brought To You By A Robot

We all have an inkling of how our food is grown these days, but increasingly we don't really know what it looks like. You'd probably recognize a tomato plant or a cornfield — but these photos offer a perspective that a lot of us haven't seen.

Photographer Freya Najade is exploring the age-old question of how humans harness nature — a question as old as agriculture itself. But what she uniquely captures here is the latest chapter in the evolution of food production, in which technology — in the form of robots and computers — is the central character.

"It was a bit bizarre, observing cows milked by robots without any humans present," Najade writes from London, where she's based. Bizarre, she says, but not all bad:

"I have seen new technologies that allow, in certain aspects, a more environmentally friendly production. For instance, in a greenhouse in which waste, water and nutrients are collected, purified and recycled, the production becomes more environmentally friendly because less water and nutrients are needed."

The fact is there are just so many of us to feed. And it's going to take some real ingenuity to feed the billions more joining us — even if that means growing lettuce under LED lights in a building in a desert. Though industrial-scale mushroom production is nothing new, in Najade's photos it looks a lot more like a science experiment than the romanticized agriculture of bucolic farms. But they're both, effectively, always a kind of experiment.

Who's making the decisions about how how we'll be growing the next generation of fruits and vegetables? I hope there's another photographer out there who wants to find out. For now, though, we have Najade, who's forcing us to ask, "Remember when humans actually milked cows?"

Maybe one day we'll be asking: "Remember cows?"

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Claire O'Neill