An NYU Tandon Alum Becomes A Founding Farmer

Nathan Healy

NYU Tandon alum Michael Udovich overcame a rocky start to his college career to help launch We Are The New Farmers

A collage of two images: 1) A jar labeled

 

Michael Udovich graduated from the NYU Tandon School of Engineering in 2018 with a BS in Electrical Engineering. But he’s the first to admit that his first two years at NYU weren’t easy. “I didn’t really know if I wanted to be in college,” he shares. “I felt like I had no idea what I was doing for a while. Luckily, I realized that I was wasting potential and jeopardizing my future.” He recommitted to his schoolwork, brought his grades up, and started looking for opportunities to get involved in research. During his fourth year, he happened upon a repurposed refrigerator at the NYU MakerSpace that was being used to grow plants. Three years later, that refrigerator has grown into We Are The New Farmers, a Brooklyn-based urban farm that Michael cofounded with Tandon master’s alum Jonas Günther and Princeton University graduate Dan Bernstein.

From Engineer To Farmer

Jonas started the urban farm as a research project, and Michael saw an opportunity to put his electrical engineering skills into practice. “It was a great way to apply what I was studying,” Michael says. “I could use my engineering, problem-solving mentality to help this interesting little urban farm get better.” At the beginning this meant fine-tuning microcontrollers and sensors, optimizing grow lights, and fabricating a dehumidifier. But as the farm grew from NYU Tandon research project to start-up venture, Michael’s role changed. After participating in the NYU Prototyping Fund and the NYU Entrepreneurial Institute‘s Summer Launchpad Program and receiving an NYU Green Grant, the team was all in on launching We Are The New Farmers as a start-up—with Michael as lead farmer.

A Fresh Take On Sustainability

As lead farmer, Michael oversees the growth of the farm’s main crop: spirulina. Spirulina is an ultra-sustainable, nutrient-rich algae that grows naturally in equatorial climates. The problem with natural spirulina is that it’s dried after harvesting, a process that depletes its nutrients and makes tracing its source difficult. We Are The New Farmers ships its spirulina fresh locally, helping it hold its nutritional value and ensuring buyers of its origins. In addition to re-creating spirulina’s hot, humid natural environment in the farm’s Brooklyn warehouse space, Michael works to make the farm as sustainable and productive as possible—a departure from his electrical engineering roots.

The Learning Process Continues

“When it came to the biology and chemistry of growing spirulina, I had zero background,” Michael laughs. “But I’m really interested in it, which is more important to me than limiting myself to electrical engineering.” He splits his time between studying research on everything from algae cultures to light spectrums and putting what he learns into action in the farm. While his and the team’s work have helped the start-up establish itself, it hasn’t always been easy. “There have been a lot of moments when it felt like we didn’t know what we were doing,” he says. “But we continue to put in the effort every day with the understanding that this is a learning process for us. I’ve had entire crops die out, but it’s still so rewarding to continue to try.”

Did You Know?

Contributing To A Legacy of Student-Driven Research

When We Are The New Farmers launched as a start-up venture, it spawned the Urban Food Lab, a student-driven, research-focused course that is part of NYU Tandon's Vertically Integrated Projects (VIP) program. Interested in conducting independent, innovative research at NYU? Learn more about the VIP program.

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