Using his passion for farming and knowledge of data analysis, Mike Prorock founded Mesur.io to help others make informed environmental choices
By Chris Vitiello | Photo by John Michael Simpson
Mike Prorock’s great idea started with a green tomato.
As a kid, he loved eating them right off the vine in his father’s North Carolina garden so much that he was willing to help maintain it. The connection between labor and food gradually became a passion, which led him to found the company Mesur.io (pronounced “measure-I-O”), which leverages a stunning range of data to help growers cultivate food better.
Think of Mesur.io’s Earthstream platform as a Farmers’ Almanac brought into the age of big data. Sure, a farmer can step outside and look at the sky to see if it’s going to rain today or not. But isn’t it better to incorporate regional weather information going back many seasons, as well as fungal and insect patterns, data from other nearby growers, soil chemistry and climate change factors, to produce real-time recommendations for the exact plot of Earth that you’re trying to grow things on?
Mike thinks so, and he has combined his background in data analysis and machine learning from the tech consulting world with his roots in the rural tobacco countryside of Cabarrus County to do it.
“You’re just around agriculture all the time there,” Mike says of his upbringing. “I always ended up doing some farm labor of some kind because it’s always there and always needs to be done. A lot of my earliest memories are about asking, ‘How do we cultivate things and grow stuff and feed ourselves?’”
Mike moved to Raleigh in 1989 and double majored in English and marine science at N.C. State University. After some graduate work, he became a consultant doing data analysis for companies like JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Cisco. But he found those early memories always percolating up through that work. In 2015, it all clicked into questions that provided the foundation for Mesur.io.
“This stuff that I’m doing for the big finance guys and tech companies – why can’t I democratize that and use those same approaches to tackle real environmental problems?” he asked. “Can I build a system that will help growers make better informed decisions so they don’t have to go look in a reference book all the time?”
Mike started prototyping ways of gathering data and putting it together in a place-based way, and he built a machine-learning system to pull together factors like weather, ecology, soil types and native species into actionable recommendations customized to individual growers.
Like their clients’ crops, Mesur.io has been growing. As chief technology officer, Mike is part of a 10-person team serving growers and enterprise-size farms as well as turf management clients like golf courses and park managers. They even help a prominent Premier League soccer team keep their field a healthy green. Mesur.io’s new Open Food Trust platform builds upon this work to apply their approaches to the larger food supply chain, linking the grower to food packagers, processors and the food delivery industry. When you scan your produce at the grocery store, you’re producing a data point for them.
In 2016, he and his wife, Cynthia Spencer, a Chapel Hill native, became growers themselves when they bought a farm west of town. The Prancing Chicken Farm sells pasture-raised eggs and hand-sewn tea wallets to the public. The property has also offered their son, Liam Prorock, 12, and stepson Dariush Charkhesht, 22, an upbringing steeped in the same values that Mike was raised with.
Farm life grounds Mike and keeps him focused on what all this data wrangling is for. It really does always come back to those green tomatoes.
“You always have to roll it back to ‘Where does the food actually start?’” he notes. “And most of our food starts on smaller and midsize farms. Ultimately a lot of it for us is trying to find the right way to inform and help on both the small farm side and with some of these bigger picture decisions that have to get made around resource conservation and looming food systems problems that we have.”