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Virtual Reality Brings the Farm to You

I’ve never set foot in a Florida citrus grove, but thanks to virtual reality, I’ve been to one. I’ve also been to a North Carolina pig farm and dairy, a Midwest soybean farm, and inside a beehive, all courtesy of technology.

People want to know more about how food is grown and raised, but they can’t always go visit a farm. Virtual reality (VR) is bringing the farm to them.  

I first saw VR in use at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo in 2017. Walking among many vendors, I spied the United Soybean Board. Being a soybean farmer, of course I stopped to talk with them and found out they had VR.  Watching it, I could almost feel the vibrations of the tractor and sweat dripping down my back from working outside – that’s how realistic these VR experiences are. Using the goggles, I could look down and see the ground, look up and watch birds flying across the sky, or spin 360° and see the farm shop behind me.  

Continuing through the Expo I visited the National Honey Board, whose VR makes you feel like you are riding on the honeybee as she visits flowers to collect nectar and goes back to the hive to work. You are carried inside a honey bottling plant, truly seeing how our food supply depends on this small insect.  

The last VR I experienced at the Expo was with Florida Citrus. I left that booth having experienced a growing season of Florida citrus in just a few minutes, without ever leaving my seat.  

After coming home from the conference, I was excited to see the North Carolina Pork Council unveil its VR at the North Carolina State Fair that year. My state is the second-largest producer of pigs, yet many people have never spoken with a pig farmer or visited a pig farm. Biosecurity, which is necessary to keep the pigs healthy, keeps most people from ever setting foot on a farm. VR brings them right into a pig nursery, where baby pigs are tended, and into a finishing house, where the pigs are moved and cared for until they are ready for market.  

Then I discovered The Dairy Alliance also has VR. I was ready to reach for a milker to help milk the cows, it’s so realistic. They received funding to purchase googles and put them in Cooperative Extension offices across the state. The goggles are free to borrow and have both the dairy and pig VR experiences.

As a farmer, I like learning about crops and livestock that we don’t grow on our farm. As a mom, I especially like learning how the food I’m buying for my kids is grown. VR gives me the experience of being on the farm without ever leaving my chair. 

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