Eric W. Stein Ph.D. – an associate professor at Penn State – will be speaking at Indoor Ag-Con Philly about the center of excellence that nearby indoor agriculture hub, Kennett Township, is spearheading. Ahead of that, we caught up with him to find out more about his work on the project.
1. You’re working with Kennett Township on a center of excellence for indoor ag. What is that and how did you get involved in it?
I met Michael Guttman, the Director of Sustainable Development for Kennett Township (PA) at a fund-raiser last fall and I casually mentioned that the focus for my teaching, research and entrepreneurial activities was indoor farming and that I was running a small CEA farm, e3garden. His eyes lit up and we immediately got into a deep discussion on indoor ag. He explained that Kennett was interested in fostering regional economic development by positioning itself as national hub for indoor agriculture by building on its existing infrastructure in mushroom production. This idea resonated with me and from that conversation emerged the idea of developing a Center of Excellence for Indoor Agriculture located in the Kennett region. I developed a proposal for Kennett to do a feasibility study on the concept, which was approved by the KT Board of Supervisors in June. We are now in the process of collecting data from various stakeholder groups on the feasibility and design of a Center of Excellence for Indoor Ag.
2. Why does indoor ag need a center of excellence?
Conferences such as Indoor Ag-Con are terrific at bringing the industry together a few times a year. Research and development on indoor ag is distributed among several universities and private companies.
That said, there remains a need for a permanent Center for Indoor Ag to fuel and accelerate industry growth and to complement the work of Indoor Ag-Con and other organizations. A Center of Excellence would promote the sharing of best practices, emerging technologies and academic research, lead to the development of standards and metrics for lighting, energy and other operational parameters, and provide expertise on the production, distribution, and the business aspects of indoor ag. The Center would also serve as a resource for investors and businesses who want to build and operate indoor ag facilities.
3. How do you envisage the center of excellence will look in five years’ time?
I envision the Center of Excellence for Indoor Agriculture to be a viable and sustainable public-private venture that serves the needs of industry, academia, and investors in the indoor ag space, as well as local communities and schools. The bulk of its budget will come from membership fees and sponsoring organizations. I see it as a place that brings the latest in research from universities to industry, provides educational programs to train the next generation of “green-tech” indoor ag employees and managers, and serving as a repository of the best practices for growing under controlled conditions from around the world.
4. How can people help? Who would you like to collaborate with?
We are actively seeking input (and sponsors) from industry and community leaders on indoor ag including suppliers, distributors, academic centers, investors, growers, government officials, and funding agencies. I am putting together a questionnaire on the feasibility, mission, and design aspects of the center. We encourage people to engage with us through the survey and our other outreach activities. For more information on the project and updates, please go to KennettIndoorAg.info.
5. Where’s the coolest place you could envisage siting a vertical farm?
In addition to siting a vertical farm in the Kennett (PA) region, here are my top three coolest places for a vertical farm:
• In a large urban center like New York, Philadelphia, London or Paris where you could see operations through massive windows from the outside. Think of it as the Pompidou Center for Indoor Ag.
• In New York’s Lowline
• Shopping malls across the country.
See Eric Speak at Indoor Ag-Con Philly on October 16, 2017
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