Skip to main content

Tag: CEA

Vertical Harvest Farms Secures USDA Loan Guarantee & Maine’s First C-PACE Funding for Industry-leading Project Financing

Deal Recognizes Power of Public-Private Partnerships to Bolster State’s Food System

Vertical Harvest Farms, an indoor farming company focused on customized employment for people with disabilities, is proud to announce the closing of $59.5 million in project financing to develop and operate a 51,000 square-foot hydroponic vertical farm in downtown Westbrook, Maine.

The project is a critical piece of the state’s food system infrastructure and will significantly contribute to the New England Food Vision, where the region’s six states committed to a goal of locally producing 30 percent of the food consumed in the region by 2030 (and 50 percent of the region’s food by 2060), by producing approximately 2.5 million pounds of fresh, leafy greens every year – ranging from mature lettuce, petite greens, microgreens and herbs.

This project also aligns with Vertical Harvest’s “feed locals first” philosophy and goal of providing greens from farm-to-fridge within 24 hours. In this way, the company helps New Englanders avoid the 30 percent loss of nutritional value that occurs within three days of harvest, which widely affects the produce shipped into the region from California, Arizona and abroad. It also significantly helps mitigate food waste by providing longer shelf life and less shrinkage at the retail and institutional level. The company offers these benefits while fulfilling its dual mission to grow food and futures by offering meaningful employment for people with disabilities in this emerging, tech-forward sector.

Vertical Harvest CEO Nona Yehia said, “We’re on a mission to grow food as local, fresh and fair as possible, and ensure there’s a place at the table for everyone in the future of food.”

As the US became a net food importer for the first time ever in 2023, stakeholders are realizing that traditional agriculture is under greater stress from extreme weather, water scarcity and climate change. This has made diversifying food production, leveraging technologic innovations, shortening supply chains, and ensuring access to fresh local food for years to come, imperative. USDA Rural Development recognizes this as well and is incentivizing efforts to future proof the food system.

“As ‘The People’s Department’ we are happy to support fresh food, and good jobs here in Maine, as well as the equity of access to both. USDA Rural Development is committed to building communities and feeding Mainers, and we look forward to Vertical Harvest being a part of the team fulfilling those shared goals,” said USDA Rural Development Maine State Director, Rhiannon Hampson.

This funding also aligns with the CEA Industry’s shift to project-level financing. Vertical Harvest is excited by the public and private partners that made this deal possible.

“We are thrilled to provide financing and partner with Vertical Harvest. Through two pioneer programs from the USDA and other community facilities, we were able to creatively structure this challenging project. We believe this will have a tremendous impact on the local community and the future of food production,” said Alexios Georgousis, Madison One CUSO.

The funding was led by Madison One and supported by Waterside Commercial Finance. The financing includes $25 million and $23,795,000 loans that utilize USDA Rural Development Business & Industry Loan Guarantees and Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Loans, respectively.

This financing is supplemented by a $8,655,189 Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy (C-PACE) loan – the first in Maine administered by the Efficiency Maine Green

Bank and issued through Nuveen Green Capital – and $2,000,000 of American Rescue Plan (ARPA) funding through the Finance Authority of Maine (FAME).

“We are pleased to have approved Vertical Harvest for this funding through the Efficiency Maine Green Bank in partnership with one of our capital providers, Nuveen Green Capital,” said James Neal, senior manager for finance initiatives at Efficiency Maine. “We strongly encourage more of Maine’s municipalities to follow Westbrook’s example and adopt this ordinance so their local businesses can take advantage of this unique pathway to finance energy improvements, such as upgrading lighting or installing heat pump systems for heating and cooling in their buildings.”

In addition, borrower and partner contributions of $19,189,210 are possible thanks to partners such as Crossroads Impact Corp, Enhanced Capital, Foundation Credit, Waterside Commercial Finance, Maine Technology Institute, and others.

“Public-private partnerships benefit a wider group of stakeholders than private capital can alone,” said Enhanced Capital’s Chief Impact Officer and Managing Director Gingee Prince. “In 2017, we partnered with Vertical Harvest to pioneer this space and are excited to see them building even more ambitious capital coalitions today.”

This array of funding follows Vertical Harvest’s model of using public-private partnerships to catalyze resilience within a state’s food system. The company believes this financing model, piloted in Wyoming and now proven in Maine, will pave the way for financing future farms such as the company’s next facility in Detroit, Michigan to be developed in partnership with Bedrock. By bringing together municipal, state and federal funding alongside private capital, not only is the company relocalizing production of perishable produce closer to consumers, but because of Vertical Harvest’s social mission, delivering outsized impact, inclusively.

About Vertical Harvest
Vertical Harvest is a hydroponic, vertical farming company dedicated to community-oriented farms, food and futures. In addition to their passion for local, healthy food grown sustainably, Vertical Harvest also operates on an inclusive, customized employment model with farms designed for accessibility and staffed via hiring practices developed to support meaningful employment for people with disabilities. For more information visit and sign up for the newsletter, or to learn about a community raise or follow on socials at @verticalharvestfarms.

Gotham Greens CEO Talks Sustainable Growth, Innovative Technologies and Exciting Milestones

In this month’s CEA Q&A, we speak with Gotham Greens‘ CEO Viraj Puri, who is joining our Indoor Ag-Con 2024 “Leader Insights” keynote panel in March! A true CEA leader, Gotham Greens has made a  remarkable journey from a single rooftop greenhouse in Brooklyn to becoming one of the largest hydroponic leafy green producers in North America. From tackling the challenges of the South’s hot and humid climate with cutting-edge greenhouse technologies to introducing fresh salad kits and championing sustainability, Puri shares valuable insights into the company’s growth, initiatives, milestones and commitment to reshaping the future of agriculture.

Gotham Greens Georgia_4_Credit Gotham Greens

Gotham Greens has rapidly expanded across the U.S since its launch in 2011 – now operating in various states and climates. Can you share some insights into the innovative technologies and strategies employed by your latest greenhouse in the southeast, particularly addressing the challenges posed by the region’s hot and humid climate?

As we continue to grow our brand, we’re excited to expand in the South and Southeast with new greenhouses in Texas and Georgia. At Gotham Greens, we’re committed to growing more with less, especially as changing climates are creating less favorable growing conditions in these states and across the country. These new greenhouses use our most advanced technology to date, including enhanced automation, cooling and dehumidification systems specifically tailored to the regions, and data science capabilities in a fully closed system to help consistently and reliably grow food closer to where people live no matter the weather outside. We’re proud to bring fresh, sustainably grown leafy greens and herbs that meet the high-quality standard consumers everywhere have come to associate with and expect from the Gotham Greens brand.

The new, state-of-the-art greenhouse facilities in the Dallas Metro area (Seagoville, Texas) and in Monroe, Ga., located between Atlanta and Athens, are examples of what comes next as we face ongoing extreme weather events and increased risk of drought in the U.S. Gotham Greens’ indoor farms create the ideal conditions for plants to thrive and provide consumers throughout the southern U.S. with sustainable fresh produce all year-round.

Gotham Greens recently introduced a new line of salad kits, combining your high-quality greens and dressings.  Can you speak to the inspiration behind these salad kits and the response from consumers?

Gotham Greens is well known for our high quality, longer lasting, pesticide-free salad greens and our line of fresh, flavorful salad dressings, and this portfolio addition combines these ingredients for a quick and easy meal solution made with premium-quality salad greens and delicious flavors that consumers crave. The new salad kits are available in three popular flavor varieties (Green Goddess, Southwest Ranch and Caesar) and are packed with fresh ingredients, including Gotham Greens greenhouse-grown lettuce and fresh flavor-filled toppings and dressings, for convenient home-cooked meals or lunches on the go.

We want people to enjoy fresh greens throughout the day, and we remain committed to bringing consumers the best-tasting, most flavorful fresh foods in the category. What sets us apart from the competition is quality and flavor, from the greens that we grow to the ingredients that we use in all our products, and we hope that consumers can sense that commitment to taste, quality and sustainability in every bite. We’ve received a lot of positive feedback about the kits so far and are excited to bring them to more markets this winter.



Gotham Greens has championed sustainability, using significantly less water and land compared to traditional farming methods.  How do you envision the future of sustainable agriculture, especially within the CEA industry?  Are there upcoming initiatives or partnerships that will further strengthen Gotham Greens’ commitment to sustainability?

As a Certified B Corporation™, Gotham Greens champions quality, efficiency, dedication and freshness in all forms, both inside its greenhouses and throughout the communities where it operates. In addition to creating year-round, full-time jobs with competitive wages and benefits, we are driving the industry toward a more sustainable food system through industry-leading social and environmental practices. Our hydroponic growing methods help us use up to 90% less water than conventional growing methods, which means that at our current footprint, Gotham Greens saves 300 million gallons of water every year compared to field-grown farming, or the equivalent to around 450 Olympic-sized swimming pools. Whole Foods Market’s ninth annual trend report recently recognized our greens for promoting water conservation, a growing interest point for consumers. Gotham Greens’ national network of greenhouses provides a consistent and reliable supply of fresh greens for customers while eliminating the need for long-distance transportation, allowing its produce to stay fresher longer, thus increasing shelf life and decreasing food waste. As we continue to expand across the country, we look forward to deepening our relationships with key educational partners, such as University of California-Davis, as we help shape the agricultural climate of the future.


Gotham Greens Georgia_4_Credit Gotham GreensFrom a single rooftop greenhouse in Brooklyn to one of the largest hydroponic leafy green producers in North America, Gotham Greens has undergone remarkable growth.  Are there specific milestones or initiatives you’re particularly excited about in the next phase of Gotham Greens development?

We recently celebrated our twelfth birthday in addition to the tenth anniversary of our second greenhouse located in Brooklyn’s Gowanus neighborhood on the roof of Whole Foods Market. The country’s first rooftop commercial-scale greenhouse integrated into a supermarket has now blossomed into a global movement of urban and innovative farming projects. This anniversary feels extra special, as this pioneering project has served as an inspiration to urban farming projects around the world. We’re especially grateful to Whole Foods Market for over a decade of supporting our mission to bring fresh, local and sustainably grown produce to its stores. We have additional plans for expansion and look forward to sharing more about that later this year!

Learn more about Gotham Greens by visiting their website.

And, make plans now to attend the March 11-12, 2024 edition of Indoor Ag-Con as Viraj joins other CEA executives on our keynote stage for our midday keynote session on day one:  “Leader Insights: Charting the Future Landscape of Controlled Environment Agriculture”.  Learn more about our full conference schedule and join us!

All photos courtesy of Gotham Greens.

Powering the Future of Agriculture: Exploring the Potential of Digital Electricity in CEA

Q&A With  James Eaves, Indoor Agriculture Director, Voltserver

In an era where innovation and sustainability are paramount in the agricultural industry, one technology is disrupting the way we think about electrical power distribution. VoltServer, the pioneer of Digital Electricity™, is leading the charge with its groundbreaking approach to powering CEA. Indoor Ag-Con talked with VoltServer’s Indoor Agriculture Director James Eaves ahead of September’s CEA Summit East where he will be leading a panel discussion exploring the potential of Class 4 Power—a new power classification specifically tailored for Digital Electricity – in the realm of CEA.  Read on as he demystifies Digital Electricity,  discusses its advantages over traditional power distribution methods, explores real-world implementations, and shares insights into VoltServer’s future plans for advancing this revolutionary technology in the agricultural sector.

Can you explain in simple terms what Digital Electricity (Class 4 Power) is and how it differs from traditional electrical distribution systems?

VoltserverDigital Electricity is a new approach to electrical power distribution that uses advanced digital technology. It is based on the concept of transmitting power as high voltage Direct Current (DC) rather than traditional Alternating Current (AC).The main difference between Digital Electricity and traditional electricity is how they are installed and used. Traditional high voltage DC or Alternating Current (AC) requires expensive and time-consuming wiring methods and safety equipment like licensed labor, inspections, permits, and specific devices such as breakers, ground fault protection, and step-down transformers.

On the other hand, Digital Electricity eliminates the need for all those things. It transforms your electrical system from a complicated infrastructure controlled by outside contractors or facility managers into something more like an IT appliance controlled by IT teams. This means that the installation and management of Digital Electricity are simpler and more user-friendly. Digital Electricity has caused a significant disruption in the market.

It has been so groundbreaking that the National Electric Code, which sets safety standards for electrical systems, has introduced a new power classification called “Class 4 Power” specifically for Digital Electricity. This shows how much of an impact Digital Electricity has had on the industry, as it represents the first new power classification in 70 years.

What specific advantages does Digital Electricity offer to CEA operators compared with traditional power distribution methods?

The most common use case is the significant reduction in cost, complexity, and time required to distribute high voltage electricity to horticulture LEDs, fans, pumps, sensors, and irrigation solenoids. For example, Digital Electricity eliminates over 75% of the components required to distribute power to LED, including LED drivers in grow spaces. Moreover, it can be installed in around 1/10th the time.

Digital Electricity also provides growers with unprecedented control and monitoring capabilities. Unlike traditional systems, with Digital Electricity, growers can control, monitor, and schedule each individual LED without installing a second set of wires and equipment. The grower uses software to group LEDs into zones, which can be easily changed as needed. If there is an issue with an LED, the grower receives an instant notification. Other features include the ability to audit power usage for each zone and automatically respond to electricity utilities’ demand response signals, which can create a significant new revenue source for the company.

Can you share a real-world example of how VoltsServer’s Digital Electricity has been implemented in a vertical farm or greenhouse, and the resulting benefits observed by the operator?

Hardee FreshVoltserver, a large CEA company, has successfully implemented Digital Electricity in their operations. They have utilized this innovative power distribution system to power the LEDs in the world’s largest certified organic vertical farm. Recently, they embarked on constructing a new facility in Georgia, spanning approximately 350,000 square feet and capable of producing an impressive 15 million heads of lettuce annually. Both of their facilities rely heavily on adjacent solar farms for power generation.

The implementation of a complex and expensive electrical infrastructure would have posed significant challenges. However, thanks to the plug-and-play nature of Digital Electricity, Hardee Fresh was able to swiftly install, maintain, and operate their entire electrical system using their own workforce. This not only saved them a substantial amount of time but also significantly reduced the need for extensive equipment typically required in such projects. This advantage is particularly valuable in the current environment, where there are long lead times for contractors and electrical components like panels and step-down transformers.

In addition to streamlining the deployment process and reducing capital expenditures, Hardee Fresh places great importance on energy efficiency. Digital Electricity has enabled them to enhance energy efficiency through better system design. Moreover, it has provided them with highly precise control and monitoring capabilities over their LEDs, allowing for further cost reduction while maintaining optimal performance.

As the first company to patent and commercialize this innovative technology, what are Voltserver’s plans for future advancements in Digital Electricity and its applications in the agricultural sector?

We are deeply committed to the CEA industry and aim to contribute by making it more financially and environmentally sustainable. Our goal is to power everything in a vertical farm or greenhouse, making the construction and maintenance aspects much easier. After getting CAPEX under control, the promise of CEA will lie in implementing software and connected devices to decrease the cost of producing high-quality food. However, many equipment companies keep their systems closed, hindering innovation in the industry. The intelligence of Digital Electricity presents a unique opportunity to develop powerful software applications, many that we can’t even imagine today. We have intentionally designed our system to be open, allowing anyone to use our open API to develop their own software tools. Currently, we are collaborating with large energy and technology partners to create new software tools that provide growers with even more control over their growing environments and energy usage.

At the upcoming CEA Summit East, you will be leading a panel discussion on Class 4 Power. Can you give our readers a sneak preview of some of the areas you plan to cover during this session?

During the CEA Summit East panel discussion, our goal is to provide the audience with a brief introduction to Class 4 Power, its benefits for the CEA industry, and the potential for Class 4 to become the new standard in CEA design and construction. The panel will include leaders from the electrical construction, LED, and vertical farming industries.

Learn more about Voltserver and the many benefits of Class 4 power by attending CEA Summit East September 19-20, 2023 at the Institute for Advance Learning & Research Conference Center.  Early Bird registration rates are still available!

You can also learn more about Voltserver by visiting the company website here.

Indoor Ag-Con Announces New CEA Food Safety 2024 Pre-Event Workshop

Leading Vertical Farming | CEA Trade Show Partners With Ceres University To Host ‘Internal Review’ Class The Day Before Indoor Ag-Con 2024 Opens In Las Vegas

Indoor Ag-Con, the largest trade show and conference for vertical farming and controlled environment agriculture(CEA), has partnered with Ceres University, a leading provider of ICET-accredited food safety training and certification, to host a CEA Food Safety Workshop ahead of the March 11-12, 2024 edition of Indoor Ag-Con at Caesars Forum, Las Vegas. Scheduled for Sunday, March 10, 2024 from 1-5 pm, the “Internal Review Class” is designed to help industry professionals build their careers and prepare to meet the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) requirement for internal auditing certification.

Internal audit certification is a mandatory requirement of the GFSI as it demonstrates an individual’s ability to conduct internal assessments of any food safety program.  By developing and maintaining a robust and effective internal audit system, operations can enhance their food safety and food quality processes through actionable improvements. This CEA Food Safety Workshop will provide valuable insights into best practices and common mistakes to avoid for successful programs, as outlined by a GFSI level professor in Food Science.

“We are thrilled to add this important CEA Food Safety Workshop to our growing line-up of educational offerings,” said Brian Sullivan, CEO of Indoor Ag-Con. “Food safety is of paramount importance in today’s rapidly evolving CEA industry, and our collaboration with Ceres University underscores our dedication to arming our attendees with the necessary skills to meet global standards.”

“Partnering with Indoor Ag-Con to host the CEA Food Safety Workshop is an exciting opportunity for Ceres University,” adds Karl Kolb, Ph.D., President, Ceres University. “Our aim is to empower professionals in the CEA industry with the knowledge and skills required to achieve and maintain the highest food safety standards. This workshop will provide attendees with proven tools and insights needed to enhance their internal audit processes and drive continuous improvement in their operations.”

The registration fee for the workshop is $575 which includes:

  • Admission to 4-hour workshop and course materials
  • Ability to earn up to 3 Continuing Education Units (CEUs) upon completion  
  • Indoor Ag-Con Expo Hall Only Pass, which includes access to Expo Floor March 11-12, 2024; admission to all Indoor Ag-Con Expo Theater presentations; Expo Floor Welcome Happy Hour; and access to expo floor of National Grocers Association (NGA) Show running concurrently at Caesars Forum.

The workshop is designed for anyone in the CEA industry dedicated to ensuring the highest standards of food safety and quality, including food safety managers, quality assurance professionals, compliance officers, and executives with a vested interest in protecting their brand’s reputation.  

CEA summit instructorsWorkshop instructors include Dr. Karl Kolb, president of Ceres University and Ceres Certifications, International (CCI) and Kellie Worrell, GlobalG.A.P. Scheme Manager, CCI.  Dr. Kolb is a  microbiologist with a quality background and more than 30 years as an industry professional. In addition to her current role with CCI, Kellie Worrell has managed the Food Safety Program for multiple vegetable farms, including a wide variety of crops. CCI features GLOBALG.A.P. among its many GFSI food safety schemes.

During the workshop attendees will learn how to organize an internal auditing program;  master risk-based approaches; educate and empower teams to become food safety advocates; effectively document findings; conduct an interview; uncover root cases, and more.

For more information and registration details for the CEA Food Safety Workshop, visit:

About Indoor Ag-Con

Indoor Ag-Con is the premier global event series focused on the future of indoor farming. Since 2013, the trade show and conference, the industry’s largest, has been at the forefront of the rapidly expanding vertical farming and controlled environment agriculture sector, providing a platform for industry leaders, innovators, and researchers to connect, share knowledge, and drive the industry forward. More information –

About Ceres University:

Ceres University is a leading provider of ICET-accredited food safety training and certification. With a mission to enhance food safety and quality through education, Ceres University equips professionals in the food industry with the knowledge and skills necessary to excel in their careers and ensure the highest standards of safety and quality. More information –

Fullei Fresh | How We Started in CEA Humbly with Sprouts

As a kid and even into my college years, when asked what my parents do for a living, I would say, “we grow sprouts” and people would make a bewildered face and ask “Brussel sprouts?” I would proceed to say, “no, like bean sprouts, alfalfa, wheatgrass…” and I was met with indifference and a quick end to that conversation. Fast forward a couple of decades and overwhelmingly I am met with amazement and smiles. We must thank the trendiness of Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA), indoor farming, hydroponic farming, vertical farming, urban farming… take your pick of names and we fall under all of them.

Fullei FreshWhat I find most humorous is that we have been doing it for generations and now is when it is being widely talked about. Sprouting is an ancient practice going back centuries in Asia and the Middle East. All sorts of legumes and other vegetables are sprouted for their digestibility and as a protein and fiber rich food source. Sprouts are the first few days of growth and therefore the origin of all vegetables. The same broccoli sprouts we grow can become full grown heads of broccoli.

How my father, Manny Wong, and I got started in CEA is that my grandfather grew bean sprouts for a few years back in the late 1930s-1940s. My father started commercially growing in 1978 and I joined the family business full time in 2010. Sprout farms have always been mom and pop or family businesses with tiny budgets and a lot of heart. We were forced to think outside the box and reconfigure equipment or experiment with processes because there were no CEA books to reference and few resources. Even 10 years ago, financial institutions and insurance companies denied our applications or quoted us high interest rates or premiums and asked for collateral because they did not understand CEA or thought it to be a risky investment.

Ingenuity plus modest (mostly self-funded) investments have resulted in our superior quality sprouts and our being recognized as industry leaders. It did not happen overnight. Little by little through the decades we added equipment to help with the growing process, harvesting and packing. The entire growing process (except for planting) is automated with watering systems, fans, lights and rotating machines. We monitor the temperature of the water, growing rooms, packing rooms, coolers, and delivery trucks. Water is purified in house with a 4-step system and PH is monitored. Air flow and humidity is taken into account. Wash tanks and centrifuges aid the harvesting process. We have packing machines, labelers, coders… Many of these have become standards for CEA in general, but that was not the case when we started implementing them, and especially not for the sprout industry.

Fullei FreshI am truly amazed at the progress we have made by being creative and innovative without major outside investment (and not that we had much personally to invest either.) It took baby steps and really picking and choosing where to spend funds plus a lot of literal blood, sweat and tears. My father designed and built or modified a lot of the tools and equipment we use out of necessity since not much was out there for C.E.A. or it was too expensive. While it is wonderful that so many are willing to invest in CEA, it is also possible to start on a small scale. Yes, some equipment will be expensive and necessary, but you also do not need to buy all of it or get fancy. We are proof of that.

One of the most important keys to success in CEA is an understanding of plant growth. Having that as a basis will allow you to literally grow the business. That is not to say shun capital investors, but that understanding / knowledge coupled with a lot of heart will go a long way. Do not be disillusioned by thinking you will not succeed if you do not secure millions in funding. Money helps, but more important is knowledge, wise spending, creativity and a will to succeed. I welcome you to challenge yourself.

After 45 years of owning and operating a sprout farm, my father is passing his knowledge down through our consulting business. We invite you to reach out. For more information, visit and


Where Agriculture Meets Wellness: Q&A With Seed2Source Founder Jennifer Waxman

Jennifer Waxman The Villages GrownAfter successfully guiding The Villages Grown™ to its current position as a vertically integrated, 84-acre total footprint, controlled environment agriculture (CEA), year-round, produce growing operation in Central Florida,  Jennifer Waxman is heading back to her roots.  That is, she’s turning her focus back to Seed2Source, the firm she launched in 2005 driven by her “agriculture meets wellness” passion and vision.

Indoor Ag-Con is thrilled to have Jennifer on our Advisory Board, as a speaker at the upcoming CEA Summit East in Virginia next week , and Indoor Ag-Con in Las Vegas in February 2023.  We had the chance to catch up with this busy CEA industry leader to learn more about her vision and plans in this month’s Q&A

For the last 6 years, you’ve overseen the impressive growth and development of The Villages Grown.  Why was the timing right to leave that post to focus on Seed2Source?

We were given the honor and trust to carry out our vision and model for The Villages Grown. This included the strategic direction, design, construction, and operation of a first-of-kind CEA in the South. We backed this with educational programming from both B2C and B2B. We built a community-based brand yet grew enough product for expansion throughout Florida. We worked with beautiful people in a beautiful community.

However, it is no secret that CEA is only scratching the surface in the US. We knew we wanted to be at the head of the ride with its growth. Several players in the CEA sector were showing intrigue and interest in our model. I believe this was rooted in our ability to build a strong brand, educate, all the while supporting other local farmers along the way.

I’ve learned a lot since entering the hydroponics sector in 2000. This is when I started to conceive this model of holistic wellness and was based on my global travels, thus observing the ‘Future of Food’. There is a lot to share from a rather long career in this sector. I have experienced successes, failures, and have observed overall industry needs and voids. This is the exciting part and I wanted back in!

Share more about Seed2Source, your Sustainable Ag Business Consulting Firm focusing on controlled environment agriculture

Seed2Source launched in 2016 but was really an evolution of my first ‘Agriculture Meets Wellness’ firm which was launched in 2005. Seed2Source is a first-of-kind, Sustainable Agriculture & Wellness, consulting firm headquartered in Florida but serving the US (and beyond). The firm focuses on strategic CEA projects rooted in sustainable agricultural, food-as-medicine, and local food system models.

Our CEA experience includes Vertical Farming, Controlled Greenhouse, Aeroponic and Hydroponic Methodologies, Strategy, Branding, Distribution, Education, Innovation, and Science. We are a one-stop-shop and are surrounded by the best and the brightest in all operational units required for true success. We bring in different consultants as the projects deem fit. This allows us to take on both small and large projects as the market dictates.

At the upcoming CEA Summit, you’ll be speaking on 2 panels, including one titled “Building The Future of CEA”.  If there is one message you hope to get across on that panel discussion what is it?

The CEA industry is still at its infancy and shall evolve with continuous iterations and innovations. Typically, when most people think of CEA, they only think of High-Tech, AI, Automation, etc. and forget about the State of Agriculture in general. I hope people start to realize that CEA is ‘part’ of a solution and not the ‘only’ solution. Also, I hope that people don’t forget about the actual agriculturists and horticulturists that are the true heroes in creating a sustainable, profitable, CEA operation. This seems to be lost with many of the current players in CEA.

You’ll also be speaking at the 2023 edition of Indoor Ag-Con on a great session idea you brought to us, “Building A CEA Alliance:  The Power of Grower Partnerships.” Can you share a little more about this idea?

As it stands, there is little-to-no diversity in US CEA. Everyone is clamoring for funding, market share, and innovations in technology. I believe they are missing a huge opportunity for collaborations, strategic partnerships, and supply chain solutions. We must work together not only for larger supply chain opportunities in both retail and wholesale, but to truly exchange best business practices and the like. We should also be collaborating to keep domestic supply in our own backyard and with prominence. There is enough business to be had for all!

What’s next for you and the team at Seed2Source?  

Our vertically integrated CEA Model, of which we pride ourselves on, was clearly not an overnight success. We are still on this journey. This will continue to be the core of our mission and vision. The Vision – ‘Intersecting Agriculture with Wellness as a Food-As-Medicine Approach’ — will continue to drive our passion and expansion.

We feel strongly that this is the model for success and ultimate operational sustainability. We are being courted by some amazing operations – both new and old players in the CEA space – which has been rewarding. We will continue to build our CEA and overall Domestic Farm Partnerships and Educational Programming.

Learn more about Jennifer and her team at 

Q&A With CEA Innovation Center Director Dr. Scott Lowman

‘A Catalyst and Hub for CEA Companies and Technology’


CEA Innovation Center.IALRWe recently announced the new partnership between Indoor Ag-Con and the Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) Innovation Center – a joint project of the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences at Virginia Tech and the Institute for Advanced Learning And Research (IALR) –to launch the CEA Summit East from October25-26, 2022.

The CEA Innovation Center is an incredible resource for our industry. We had the chance to catch up with Dr. Scott Lowman, the Center’s Director, to learn more about the exciting research projects he and his team are working on; the benefits of hosting the new Summit at this research facility; and other ways the Center is serving CEA industry members.

Tell us a little about the Controlled Environment Agriculture Innovation Center and its primary goals

The Virginia Tech-IALR Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) Innovation Center was created to leverage the resources of the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech along with the biotechnology, technology, and analytical chemistry capabilities of IALR to move the CEA field forward. The Center offers a one-stop shop for many cutting-edge research projects and is a wonderful vehicle to support and attract industry partners. Part of the initiative is to also serve as a catalyst and hub for CEA companies and technology, and we are already helping to create an ecosystem around CEA innovation with some leading-edge projects in waste recycling, nutrient management, imaging and data analysis, and biotechnology. All of this will be facilitated by the CEA Summit East on October 25-26.


Can you share any highlights of some of the research projects you and your team are currently working on

CEA Innovation Center.IALR2We have lots of exciting research projects happening at the moment, both internally to fuel innovation, as well as contract research to support and help solve industry challenges. There are a couple I can mention.

One project focuses on biostimulant use to increase yield in hydroponic systems. This project, supported by a Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Specialty Crop Grant, focuses on using bacterial endophytes, or beneficial bacteria that live inside of plants, that have proven to promote plant growth naturally in the lab and in vertical systems. Our initial data indicate exciting potential!

Another project is focused on using imaging and robotics to monitor plant growth and health. Using our in-house developed SMART tables, we are able to pinpoint tiny changes in plant growth and health during cultivation. One experiment can generate 80,000 images!


The partnership with Indoor Ag-Con to host the newly announced CEA Summit East is one example of how you’re serving the region’s growers and CEA industry members. What differentiates this new event from other CEA conferences?

IALR Campus bird's eye viewWhen we launched the Center, one of the many opportunities we were excited about was our ability to leverage our state-of-the-art conferencing center here at IALR to bring industry and academia together through hosting conferences and workshops focusing on CEA. With the CEA industry growing in Virginia, the location of the Summit is near the stakeholders that the Center is striving to serve.

Additionally, it is very unique in that the conference will be held in a research facility. This is certainly a break from typical conferences based from hotel conference centers. Attendees can see firsthand our cutting-edge research projects happening now, as well as explore ideas for collaborations with our VT and IALR researchers on-site.

What’s next for the CEA Innovation Center

CEA Innovation CenterThe CEA Innovation Center is growing rapidly, and we are always on the lookout for mutually beneficial partnerships in research and education, including contract research opportunities.

The biggest endeavor on the horizon, however, is most certainly the CEA Summit East! While lots of research is going on behind the scenes, we are thrilled about partnering with Indoor Ag-Con to bring together both academia and industry for a first-class event here in Danville, Virginia.

Learn more about the CEA Summit here and make plans now to join us!

CEA 4.0 | Accelerating the Development, Advancement & Efficiency of Indoor Farming

Indoor Ag-Con is proud to be an event partner for Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) 4.0, the virtual event focusing on accelerating the development, advancement and efficiency of indoor farming.  This year the event runs over 2 days —  Friday, May 6 and Friday, May 20, 2022.

“This edition of CEA 4.0 will focus on the current evolution of the indoor farming industry to explore how policy is developing with its integration into the sector, how we are helping to drive the circular economy forward, sustainability, integration into traditional food systems, and learning how this is being done from an international perspective. From a technological aspect we will be focusing on seeds and their development, TCEA, grow light solutions, resource efficiencies, automation, energy usage and requirements, innovations in research and technologies, and robotics & AI,” according to Jonathan Martin, director, Tech 4.0.

As part of our event partnership, our Indoor Ag-Con audience is invited  to take advantage of a special VIP upgrade.  You can register for the current lowest price of £4.99 and you’ll be  upgraded manually to a VIP attendee which includes:

  • Full conference & event access provided for the entire event
  • Instant messaging and 1-1 video networking with any attendee
  • Ability to arrange 1-1 video meetings with any attendee
  • Access to recordings of event presentations
  • Customizable company & attendee profiles with various multimedia content options
  • Associated event company branding

Learn more & register at

Autogrow and Agritecture Consulting Release 2nd Annual CEA Census Report

Global CEA Census ReportAutogrow and Agritecture Consulting have released the 2nd Annual CEA Census Report highlighting positive signs of growth despite the global pandemic.

Data captured over an 8-week period show 95% of growers have an optimistic outlook for the next 12 months with all types of operations including greenhouses, shipping containers, tunnel and vertical farms showing profitability.

 “The optimism reflects what we have seen across many areas of the industry including increased technology adoption and increased consumer expenditure on fresh produce. And despite the challenges we’re seeing an overwhelming number of new entrants into the market,” says Autogrow CEO Darryn Keiller.

 “What has not changed is the high percentage of new growers, almost 50%, that have no experience in agriculture before starting their business. That lack of experience has an impact on new technology solutions created and the need for more education to be available to support them. It also shows a real desire to make a difference considering their willingness to start during a pandemic.”

 Respondents from 58 countries shared their views on their farming practices, financials, and the impact of COVID-19.  The report also gave insight on three key growth regions around the world – India, the UK and MENA (Middle East & North Africa).

 “The results of the 2020 Census confirmed our hypothesis that the UK, India, and MENA regions are the emerging hotspots for CEA, albeit for different reasons. In the UK, Brexit is driving investment towards CEA to combat supply chain risks, while in India rising population and increased premium consumer demand for clean food are driving CEA. In the MENA region, government responses to COVID-19 have accelerated policies and incentives for developing scalable CEA solutions,” explains Agritecture Consulting Founder Henry Gordon-Smith.

 “All of these regions present great opportunities for the CEA industry to grow and make a meaningful impact on their respective local conditions.”

 Other takeaways from the Census:

·       CEA businesses showing optimism and resilience despite the COVID hurdles

·       88% of growers surveyed are below age 50

·       29% of respondents receive funding from multiple sources


About Autogrow

Autogrow leverages the power of technology, data science and plant biology to provide indoor growers affordable, accessible and easy-to-use innovation – 24/7, anywhere in the world.

Our solutions support growers and resellers in over 40 countries producing over 100 different crop types.

We are the experts in Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) and continue to stay ahead of a rapidly evolving landscape.

 About Agritecture Consulting

Agritecture Consulting provides a comprehensive approach to CEA project development.

In operation since 2014, Agritecture has helped more than eighty organizations determine the feasibility of their ideas, validate their business strategies, recruit talent for their projects, and manage operational challenges.

Our job is to jumpstart your knowledge of CEA, help you navigate barriers to entry, make industry connections, and mitigate risk. Our consulting services are backed by several years of operations data and a team of experienced growers, engineers, and sustainability managers.

Produce Trends & Business Opportunities In the Covid Crisis

Indoor Ag-Con kicked off its Indoor Ag-Conversations webinar series in June 2020 . Partnering with United Fresh , we hosted a webinar addressing produce trends & business opportunities in the Covid crisis.  Moderated by United Fresh President & CEO Tom Stenzel, the panel included Paul Lightfoot, CEO and founder of BrightFarms, Alex DiNovo, president and COO of DNO Produce, and Victor Verlage, senior director of Agriculture Strategy Development at Walmart.

Kate Spirgen, editor of Garden Center, Greenhouse Management & Produce Grower magazines penned a terrific recap.  In it, she outlined five key takeaways from the panel touching on produce trends and business opportunities in the Covid crisis:

1. Berries are big on the horizon.

Panelists agreed that berries will be among the next hot items in CEA since growers can provide tastier options with longer shelf lives than conventional farms. “How variable is a strawberry’s taste when it’s conventional?” DiNovo asked. “You can have one that tastes fantastic and you can have one that tastes like dirt. You can have the same flavorful berry without Mother Nature wreaking havoc on it.”

Highly perishable items with complex supply chains are ripe for disruption, panelists said.

“What we’re interested in is beyond the shelf life, we want home life for the customers,” Verlage said. “We don’t want them to waste produce because it goes bad quickly.”

2. Create value by standing out.

From a marketing standpoint, DiNovo said indoor agriculture operations shouldn’t fight a conventional battle. By creating new names for products and branding them to stand out, growers can change the game.

“Create its own value by calling it something else,” he said. “If you call it by a conventional name, you’re going to compete on a conventional price basis.”  The coronavirus has impacted everything from supply chains to shopping habits.

 3. COVID-19 has increased consumers’ desire to keep money local.

DiNovo said the economic impact of the coronavirus has led to a greater demand to keep money in the local economy.  this is true whether it’s spending inside the community or providing jobs.
“That’s what local means to me more than anything else — it’s local impact,” he said.

4. Labor and supply chain concerns could lead to opportunities.

Lightfoot said he sees an opportunity to promote safety due to a smaller supply chain.  He added   that the current salad industry has seen issues with safety in the recent past.

“One farm’s contamination could have a bigger impact since more products are coming into contact with each other,” he said, stating that a longer supply chain makes tracking more difficult. “Those structural challenges don’t exist in our model as they do in the incumbent supply chain model.”

Creating new names and brands for products can help your CEA operation stand out in the marketplace. The year-round nature of indoor agriculture could also give CEA operations a leg up on labor.

Farm labor shortages, which he said have worsened due to the current administration’s policies on labor and immigration, have only been made more difficult by COVID-19. Housing and transportation have left farm employees more vulnerable to the disease.

“When this is over, borders will probably be less open, not more, so this issue will probably become worse,” he said.

“That’s what local means to me more than anything else — it’s local impact,” said Alex DiNovo, president and COO of DNO Produce.   CEA operations are better equipped to control entry to facilities.  And, year-round labor provides more stability in the workforce.

5. Retailers are looking for the right size solution for their stores.

Verlage said Walmart is looking for ways to mix big and smaller growers since different growers will bring solutions better suited to different communities.

“We are trying to figure out what is the right size project for the demand we face in different stores,” he said. “It has to be affordable, good nutritious food so that we can help everyone enjoy healthy food.”

The full session covering produce trends & business opportunities  in the Covid crisis was recorded and you can watch it here!