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Tag: sustainability

From Fast Company: Someday Your Jeans Could Be Grown In A Greenhouse Down The Street

Fast Company recently featured an interesting story on Dutch denim label G-Star Raw and its partnership  with researchers to grow cotton for denim in a greenhouse. It might be the future of fashion.   As reported by Elizabeth Segran at Fast Company:

Over the past few years, Patagonia, Citizens of Humanity, and Christy Dawn have started sourcing cotton from farms that use regenerative agriculture methods. But soon, sustainable fashion brands might also consider cotton from another source: a greenhouse. Dutch brand G-Star Raw wants to turn this into a reality.

The brand partnered with a Dutch university on a small pilot project to grow cotton in a greenhouse, then use it to create denim. The end result was five pairs of jeans, made from end-to-end entirely in the Netherlands. Now, G-Star Raw is exploring how to scale this production so that denim brands around the world can create locally made jeans that have a far smaller environmental footprint.

THE LOCAL JEANS CHALLENGE

Cotton grows best in very hot, humid conditions, which is why most of the world’s crops are grown in China, India, Brazil, and the American South. Northern Europe? Not so much.

This presents some complications for European brands like G-Star Raw, a denim brand founded in the Netherlands in 1986. Given the current global supply chain, it must source its cotton from far away, which means shipping cotton long distances, generating extensive carbon emissions. “It also makes traceability more complicated,” says Rebecka Sancho, G-Star’s head of sustainability. “And the first step to sustainability is traceability.” She also points out that new regulations are rolling out in the European Union that demand brands track the entire supply chain of their products.

So it was intriguing to Sancho when Wageningen University, which is globally recognized for its agricultural research, reached out to the brand. Researchers were interested in collaborating on an experiment to see whether it was possible to grow cotton in the Netherlands by using a greenhouse. And they wanted to quantify the environmental footprint of this cotton, as compared to traditionally grown cotton.

Read full story at Fast Company...

Integration, Efficiency, and the Future of CEA: Q&A With Microclimates Founder Neda Vaseghi

Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) is experiencing rapid growth, driven by technological advancements. At the forefront of this innovation is Microclimates, a platform that unifies various CEA systems, offering a holistic view of operations. By integrating data and controls from different sources, Microclimates helps growers improve productivity, manage resources efficiently, and ensure high-quality yields. In our conversation, Microclimates Founder Neda Vaseghi shares how their solutions are paving the way for sustainable and scalable CEA practices, setting new industry standards in California and beyond.

Microclimates IntegrationQ: The MicroClimates  software platform integrates various aspects of controlled environment agriculture, such as lighting, climate control and irrigation.  Can you explain how this integration benefits greenhouse operators and vertical farm growers in terms of productivity, quality, and efficiency?

At Microclimates, our vision from the start has been to provide a hardware-agnostic and user-friendly interface. Over the years, we have partnered with numerous companies to offer both wired and wireless (LoRaWAN) solutions. Staying true to our hardware-agnostic approach, we have developed a robust technology platform that integrates with various systems and programming languages.

Integrating the various aspects, can significantly benefit greenhouse operator and vertical farm growers in the following ways:

  • Improve productivity & streamline operation: By unifying siloed systems onto a single platform, we are able to streamline data integration for continuous improvement. These controls monitor conditions, facilitate inter-system communication, and provide a comprehensive facility-level view. This allows everyone to observe how mission-critical systems respond. Greater efficiency is achieved through ongoing engagement with data from integrated controls and analysis platforms. Alerts and reports offer insights to help growers update Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and control sequences. As changes are implemented, benchmarking key performance indicators can verify improvements. Over time, more systems can be integrated and controlled from the unified platform, enabling remote control and automation for seamless decision-making across all systems. Like an orchestra, these systems work together harmoniously for optimal performance.
  • Resource Management: The Microclimates system offers sub-metering energy monitoring, enabling operators to track energy consumption of specific components like lighting and HVAC systems. This data, combined with local utility peak demand hours and fees, allows for operational adjustments to support energy savings. Optimizing lighting schedules and intensities reduces electricity consumption, while precise climate control minimizes the energy required for heating, cooling, and ventilation. Additionally, automated and precise irrigation systems reduce water waste and ensure that nutrients are delivered in the right amounts at the right time, enhancing resource use efficiency and reducing costs.
  • Data Today & Data Tomorrow: Data-Driven decisions are at the core of integrated software platforms, which not only collect and analyze data from various sensors and control systems but also empower growers to make insightful decisions for their operation today. By harnessing this data-driven approach, operators can identify trends and adjust strategies proactively to optimize growth conditions, enhancing productivity and quality. Moreover, the collected data serves as a valuable resource for future advancements, enabling machine learning and AI applications to further revolutionize CEA. Recognizing that data is power, the platform emphasizes the importance of collecting heterogeneous data from various sources, laying the foundation for the intelligent automation of the future, including machine learning & AI.
  • Scalable Growth With Cost Efficiency: The system is designed with scalability in mind, allowing it to grow alongside an operation. An operator can start their integration journey with one or two systems and expand as needed, ensuring that the system evolves with their business. This flexibility is crucial for keeping operational costs affordable, especially when competing with outdoor agriculture prices. By integrating various aspects of controlled environment agriculture, the system makes it easier to scale operations without a proportional increase in labor or operational expenses. As the operation grows, the software adeptly manages the increased complexity, facilitating a seamless expansion while maintaining a close watch on OPEX. This approach ensures that efficiency and cost-effectiveness are prioritized, supporting sustainable growth for greenhouse operators and vertical farm growers.
  • Quality: Quality is a key benefit of integrated systems, which provide uniform conditions that result in consistent plant quality. Each plant receives the same care, leading to uniform size, taste, and appearance, crucial for meeting market standards. By minimizing environmental stress through precise control, plants are less likely to develop diseases or pests, resulting in healthier crops with better nutritional profiles and longer shelf lives. Additionally, the ability to tailor the environment to specific crops or growth stages, such as vegetative or flowering, allows growers to maximize the quality of a diverse range of plants.

MicroclimatesYour collaboration with ERI for the CalNEXT study on the benefits of integrated control systems for greenhouses and indoor farms is an exciting initiative.  How do you envision these findings shaping the future of controlled environment agriculture in California and beyond?

The findings from our collaboration with ERI on the CalNEXT study have the potential to significantly transform the CEA industry in California and set a precedent for similar advancements globally. By focusing on the integration of smart controls for lighting, HVAC, and irrigation systems, we aim to demonstrate substantial energy savings and operational efficiencies in greenhouses and indoor farms.

Overall, the findings from the CalNEXT study will be instrumental in driving the future of controlled environment agriculture by promoting sustainable practices, reducing energy consumption, and improving crop productivity. This project represents a significant step towards achieving California’s climate goals and setting a benchmark for global agricultural practices.

Here is more detail in how we envision the study might shape the future of CEA. I certainly hope it’s the first of many studies on this topic.

Impact on California’s CEA Industry:

  1. Energy Efficiency and Cost Reduction: The implementation of smart environmental controls will enable growers to optimize their resource usage, thereby reducing energy consumption and operational costs. This is crucial in California, where energy prices are high, and there is a strong emphasis on sustainability and reducing carbon footprints. We must identify ways to reduce our energy consumption in CEA. A lot of emphasis has been placed on LED lights, including rebates. Very little on integrated controls.
  2. Enhanced Crop Yields and Quality: Intelligent control systems provide precise monitoring and adjustments to environmental conditions, ensuring optimal growth conditions for crops. This can lead to higher yields and improved quality of produce, benefiting both growers and consumers.
  3. New Utility Rebate Programs: The goal for the  study is to identify new rebate programs for utilities to support the adoption of these technologies. This financial incentive will encourage more growers to invest in smart control systems, accelerating the adoption rate and broadening the impact across the state.

Broader Implications:

  1. Scalability and Replicability: The technology roadmap and insights gained from this study will serve as a model for other regions and countries. The demonstrated benefits in California can be replicated in other areas facing similar challenges, promoting global advancements in CEA.
  2. Innovation and Industry Standards: By collaborating with leaders such as Cornell University GLASE consortium & ERI, we are setting new standards for energy efficiency and sustainability in CEA. This collaboration fosters innovation and encourages the development of next-generation technologies that can further enhance the industry.
  3. Equity and Inclusion: CalNEXT is committed to ensuring that all Californians benefit from clean and healthy environments. The insights from this study will help us identify ways to support equity and inclusion in delivering these technologies, ensuring that small and disadvantaged growers also have access to the benefits of smart environmental controls.

MicroclimatesWith an extensive background in food safety – and considering your upcoming speaking role at the CEA Summit in Virginia – what do you see as the most critical food safety challenges currently facing the indoor agriculture industry? And, how does MicroClimates’ technology contribute to enhancing food safety in CEA operations?

 

The most critical food safety challenges in indoor agriculture revolve around pathogen control, water quality, cross-contamination, and traceability.

Often, the challenge is exacerbated because food safety is not adequately addressed during the design or build-out phase of agricultural facilities. When buildings and irrigation systems are not designed with food safety in mind, it becomes a much larger challenge to implement effective monitoring & management protocols. As for traceability, effective traceability systems are crucial in indoor agriculture for quickly identifying and containing contamination incidents. By tracking produce from seed to sale, these systems ensure compliance with regulatory standards like Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and facilitate swift recall management when necessary. This capability enhances transparency across the supply chain, bolstering consumer confidence in product safety and quality. Robust traceability not only safeguards public health by enabling precise removal of affected batches but also preserves the industry’s reputation for reliability and responsibility in food safety practices.

In 2006, a spinach recall due to contamination with E. coli bacteria significantly impacted consumer confidence and sales. The outbreak, linked to spinach grown in California, resulted in over 200 reported illnesses across multiple states, with several cases of severe illness and even deaths. This incident led to a widespread recall of spinach products from grocery stores nationwide, causing financial losses for growers and distributors alike and prompting consumers to avoid spinach products for a period.

Similarly, in 2011, a cantaloupe recall was initiated due to a Listeria monocytogenes outbreak traced to a farm in Colorado. The contaminated cantaloupes were linked to numerous illnesses and deaths across multiple states. The outbreak had severe consequences for the cantaloupe industry, with consumers avoiding purchases due to concerns over food safety. This led to a decline in sales and financial losses for growers and distributors, highlighting the devastating impact of foodborne illness outbreaks on consumer trust and market demand.

These recalls underscore the critical importance of robust food safety practices, including traceability systems, to quickly identify and remove contaminated products from the market. Such incidents serve as reminders of the need for stringent adherence to food safety standards and continuous efforts to maintain consumer confidence in the safety and quality of agricultural products.

Microclimates’ technology focuses on environmental automation. We have developed an easy-to-deploy mapping application that allows companies to upload a map, blueprint, or any image of their facility into the platform. This application can overlay various types of data onto these maps. Currently, we specialize in displaying environmental data, such as temperature and humidity. However, our platform is designed for integration and we welcome partnerships with companies interested in overlaying food safety data onto their facility maps. Tracking food safety data alongside environmental metrics can provide a comprehensive view of facility conditions, enhancing the ability to monitor and manage both environmental and food safety parameters effectively.

Overall, currently, our platform’s impact on food safety in CEA is limited. However, I am optimistic that we can identify customers who are eager and have the capacity to delve into integrating and aligning food safety protocols with our environmental automation capabilities. This proactive approach will enable us to enhance our platform’s contribution to ensuring safe and secure agricultural practices in controlled environments.

Microclimates Energy SavingsGiven your years of experience across various facets of the industry, what do you see as the biggest challenges and opportunities facing the CEA sector today? How is MicroClimates positioning itself to address these?

Challenges:

  • Energy Consumption: One of the biggest challenges is energy consumption. CEA facilities often require significant energy for lighting, HVAC, and other systems. Lighting and HVAC alone consume about 70% of the energy. Managing and reducing energy consumption while maintaining optimal growing conditions is a major challenge. At Microclimates, we have launched a sub-metering energy monitoring wireless solution to address this issue. This allows operators to input their peak demand utility fees while measuring the energy consumption of their facility at a granular level. For example, our solution enables the differentiation of energy usage for specified periods of lighting versus HVAC or down to the equipment level—information that cannot be gathered simply from a utility bill. Understanding consumption and costs at such a granular level can be an eye-opener. This detailed information can be used to make modifications, resulting in significant cost savings.
  • Initial investments: Another challenge is the initial investment and ongoing costs associated with setting up advanced CEA systems, including infrastructure, technology, and automation. At Microclimates, we have stayed hardware agnostic, allowing our platform to integrate seamlessly with both existing environmental systems and new ones. As hardware prices continue to decline, our hardware-agnostic approach enables us to offer a very affordable entry fee for automation. This flexibility helps clients start with a cost-effective solution and scale their systems as needed over time, without being tied to specific hardware vendors. This approach not only reduces initial investment costs but also provides the adaptability required for long-term growth and efficiency.
  • Connectivity: To enable remote environmental monitoring and controls, operators rely heavily on solid internet connectivity. This model typically thrives in urban areas or developed regions where robust internet infrastructure is readily available. However, a significant challenge lies in ensuring that the benefits of advanced agricultural technology extend to underserved communities and bridging the digital divide. At Microclimates, we recognize this challenge and have partnered with edge computing hardware solutions to extend connectivity to areas with limited internet access. Through this partnership, we aim to first lay the foundation for connectivity and subsequently introduce automation solutions tailored for both indoor and outdoor farms. By addressing connectivity barriers, we can empower all farmers, regardless of their location, to leverage cutting-edge technology for enhanced efficiency and productivity.

 

Opportunities:

  1. Technological Advancements: A significant opportunity in the CEA sector lies in technological advancements, particularly in LED lighting, HVAC systems, automation, and AI. Innovations in LED lighting and HVAC systems can greatly enhance energy efficiency and boost crop yields, making production more sustainable and cost-effective. Additionally, the integration of automation and AI technologies can optimize growing conditions, reduce labor costs, and increase scalability, allowing for more consistent and higher quality outputs. Microclimates Inc. is capitalizing on this opportunity by not only integrating various technological silos into a common user interface but also collecting vast amounts of data to support ongoing intelligent automation. This comprehensive approach ensures the continuous improvement and sustainability of CEA operations, setting a new standard for the industry both today and in the future.
  2. Sustainability and environmental impact: Both are key advantages of CEA systems, which typically use significantly less water than traditional agriculture, addressing critical water scarcity issues. CEA also supports urban agriculture initiatives, reducing food miles and providing fresh produce to urban populations. Environmental automation plays a crucial role in these advancements by optimizing resource usage and minimizing waste, leading to more sustainable indoor farming practices. Additionally, Microclimates Inc. enhances these benefits by offering sub-metering energy monitoring, enabling continuous improvement in lowering energy consumption. This comprehensive approach not only boosts the sustainability of CEA operations but also sets a new standard for efficient and responsible indoor farming practices.
  3. Year-round production: CEA ensures a consistent supply of fresh produce, independent of seasonal changes. This is particularly crucial given my years in food safety and firsthand experience with the challenges posed by climate instability in Salinas, CA, which impacts all agricultural products, including almonds. With CEA, we have a real opportunity to make a difference by maintaining a stable supply chain despite external environmental fluctuations. Microclimates Inc. plays a pivotal role in this by offering scheduling for seasonal automation and data analytics, enabling the replication of successful production cycles. This capability not only supports continuous and reliable production but also enhances the overall sustainability and efficiency of indoor farming practices.

MicroclimatesYour passion for innovation and sustainability is evident.  What is your long-term vision for Microclimates, and how do you plan to continue driving innovation in the indoor growing sector to create value for customers, partners & stakeholders?

 

Thank you for recognizing our passion for innovation and sustainability. At Microclimates, our long-term vision revolves around pioneering advancements in the indoor growing sector that enhance productivity, efficiency, and sustainability. We are committed to driving innovation by expanding our integrations with as many companies as possible, fostering collaboration even with competitors to create a unified industry ecosystem rather than silos. Our goal is to broaden our integration portfolio to support the entire industry and facilitate seamless operations for our customers, partners, and stakeholders.

Data analytics will be pivotal in our strategy, leveraging big data and AI-driven insights to revolutionize crop forecasting, optimize yield management, and enable predictive maintenance. This approach empowers our customers to make informed, data-driven decisions that enhance operational efficiency and maximize profitability.

Additionally, we are deeply invested in two specific areas: academia and underserved communities. We plan to continue our close collaboration with academia to drive technological advancements in CEA, ensuring we remain at the forefront of innovation. Simultaneously, we are committed to partnering with companies that share our values in addressing the needs of underserved communities, using our technology to promote food security and sustainability.

By focusing on these initiatives, Microclimates aims to lead the way in sustainable indoor growing practices while fostering collaboration, innovation, and social responsibility across the industry. Together with our partners and stakeholders, we are dedicated to shaping the future of CEA through technology and inclusive community support.

Learn more about Microclimates here.

 

 

 

Campo Caribe: Transforming Tropical Farming With High-Tech Innovation

Jonah Helmer Head Shot
Campo Caribe Head Grower Jonah Helmer

Located in the mountains of Barranquitas, Campo Caribe is officially on its way to providing fresh produce to Puerto Rican families, creating new jobs and reducing the island’s dependence on imports. Following last week’s press conference where Puerto Rico’s Governor Pedro R. Pierluisi announced the expansion of  the agricultural project’s state-of-the-art hydroponic greenhouse operation — the largest in the Caribbean – Indoor Ag-Con spoke with Campo Caribe’s Head Grower Jonah Helmer. Read on as he shares the cutting-edge technologies and innovative strategies the team is implementing to overcome tropical weather challenges, optimize growing conditions, and sustainably produce fresh, high-quality lettuce year-round.

Can you share how Campo Caribe will be leveraging its unique location in the central mountains of Puerto Rico to optimize growing conditions and mitigate the challenges posed by the tropical island environment, such as hurricanes and extreme weather fluctuations?

Campo Caribe
Campo Caribe commercial greenhouse in the mountains of Puerto Rico

With our location in the central mountains of Puerto Rico, Campo Caribe has climatic advantages, including high levels of sunlight and mostly moderate temperatures due to the higher elevation. However, there are some additional issues we face in our tropical island location, such as risk of hurricanes, periods of excessive sunlight, frequent rain events, periods of low humidity and of excessive humidity, and periods of extreme air and irrigation water temperatures.

To control these variables, Campo Caribe is building one of the most technologically advanced and sustainable lettuce greenhouses in the Caribbean. At 5.5 acres, this is the largest hydroponic greenhouse in the Caribbean and the largest of only 3 greenhouses in the world combining the Cravo retractable roof structure and Hydronov deep water culture growing system. The Cravo retractable roof and shading system allows us to passively cool our greenhouse throughout the day. We can open the roof to maximize our light levels during cloudy periods and close the roof and shade system to reduce peak light intensity. We grow our lettuce in deep water culture, which uses a greater water volume to buffer fluctuations in water and air temperature around the plant. We added a Vifra high pressure fogging system to maintain optimal humidity levels for our plants to help them transpire, photosynthesize, and maximize growth all day long without becoming water stressed under the strong tropical sun.

Campo Caribe Research Greenhouse
Prior to completion of its commercial greenhouse, Campo Caribe built research and development greenhouses.

Our unique combination of location, facility design, growing equipment, and controls systems allows us to overcome these issues and puts us on the cutting edge of the controlled environment agriculture (CEA) industry. This makes our facility more productive, energy efficient, and sustainable than those of our competitors, and makes our products tastier and healthier for our customers. Our greenhouse is built to withstand hurricane force winds up to 165 mph and will allow us to achieve a higher order fulfillment rate for Puerto Rican businesses.

The integration of the Cravo retractable roof structure and Hydronov deep water culture growing system are distinguishing features of Campo Caribe. Can you explain how this combination enhances plant growth and resource efficiency compared to traditional greenhouse setups?

Cravo Retractable Roof Campo Caribe
Cravo retractable roof

Conventional glass and plastic greenhouses are not designed to operate in tropical climates with high temperatures and humidities all year round. The Cravo greenhouse allows us to optimize the aerial environment around the leaves of the plants in our hot climate while the Hydronov deep water culture system provides deep, cool, and oxygenated reservoirs of recirculating nutrient solution that will support plant growth even with severe fluctuations in temperatures and interruptions in power supply that can occur in Puerto Rico.

The roof and sides of the Cravo greenhouse fully retract allowing us to combine the benefits of outdoor and CEA production systems to enhance plant growth. By maximizing natural sunlight and controlling the environment, Campo Caribe is able to exceed the average yields of lettuce grown in deep water culture without the use of any artificial lighting and with lower chemical inputs.

The retractable roof prevents the excess heat buildup that occurs in conventional greenhouses and ensures that we have uniform growing conditions throughout the 5.5 acre structure. Retractable cooling curtains help regulate the sunlight and air temperatures, while our high-pressure fogging system and horizontal airflow fans optimize the humidity levels around the leaf surface.

Campo Caribe uses minimal electricity since the retractable roofs and cooling curtains consume only 2-3 kw hours of electricity per day per hectare compared to over 1000 kw hours for conventional greenhouses cooled with cooling pads and fans. We are not using any supplemental lighting to grow our lettuce, which saves a significant amount of energy and expense compared to greenhouses in higher latitudes.

Tropical climates provide favorable conditions for foliar and root diseases due to consistently warm temperatures and high humidity and precipitation levels. Hydronov designed our growing system to reduce risk of crop loss from disease and improve productivity. Our growing system features 16 independent production ponds, each fed with ozone sterilized source water to prevent the introduction of water-borne pests and diseases into the ponds. We have precise control systems for the water temperature and oxygen concentration of our growing solution to further reduce disease risk and improve plant health to make our product top in quality and in safety.

The use of rainwater collection and high-pressure fogging systems reflects a commitment to resource efficiency and environmental sustainability. Could you elaborate on how these systems contribute to Campo Caribe’s overall sustainability goals and operational efficiency?

Campo Caribe Packaging
Campo Caribe’s lettuce will come in butterhead, romaine and spring mix varieties, and will be available in supermarkets and restaurants around the island, as well as at a direct sales stand at the farm’s facilities in Barranquitas.

Campo Caribe designed our production systems to improve the sustainability and reliability of produce available in Puerto Rico. By replacing imports with locally grown produce, Campo Caribe will help decrease Puerto Rico’s dependency on imported food, which currently stands at approximately 85%. The majority of lettuce available in Puerto Rico is grown in California or Arizona and shipped by truck and by boat to the island. It is not uncommon for some of this produce to go bad during this long journey and be wasted before it gets to consumers, contributing to higher carbon emissions.

To conserve resources, Campo Caribe utilizes collected rainwater from the roof of the greenhouse as the primary water source for the facility and saves 90% more water than conventional outdoor lettuce farms. By collecting and using our rainwater, Campo Caribe can support its production with less reliance on municipal or well water. This helps us to produce a reliable supply of lettuce for our customers all year round.

General Manager, Zuleyka Mendoza, and Farm Supervisor, Andrea Baez, in Research Greenhouse
Campo Caribe General Manager, Zuleyka Mendoza, and Farm Supervisor, Andrea Baez, in research greenhouse

The Cravo retractable roof structure significantly reduces the amount of energy used to vent and cool the greenhouse, but high solar radiation levels can cause severe spikes in air temperature and drops in humidity levels. To prevent our plants from getting water stressed, we have installed a Vifra high pressure fogging system to maintain optimal humidity levels and cool down peak air temperatures. Vifra’s high pressure fogging system produces water droplets 1 micron in size that evaporate immediately in the air, increasing humidity without wetting the leaf surface, which reduces risk of foliar disease.

The high pressure fogging system will work in combination with the retractable cooling curtains to reduce peak temperatures making our greenhouse more resistant to extreme temperatures caused by climate change. By maintaining optimal humidity levels during hot summer days, our crop will not become water stressed and instead can take full advantage of the sun’s energy to grow faster and yield more. The high pressure fogging system will only be required for several hours per day when the humidity levels drop below 60% which will reduce the amount of fresh water for cooling by over 95% compared to conventional pad and fan cooled greenhouses.

The Priva Control System will play a key role in maintaining optimal growing conditions. Can you discuss how this system improves operational efficiency and ensures consistent yields – particularly in a high-tech greenhouse environment like Campo Caribe?

Campo Caribe Commercial Greenhouse Pond Recirculation Corridor
Campo Caribe greenhouse pond recirculation corridor

Campo Caribe selected a Priva climate control system to monitor and control all climate variables and control the irrigation system in our greenhouse. Priva (based in De Lier, Holland) is a global leader in CEA control systems, developing software, hardware, and services for the horticulture industry worldwide. We collaborated with Priva partner, Borlaug, in designing, developing, manufacturing, shipping, installing, and commissioning our climate control system. Priva integrates with the Cravo greenhouse and production equipment so we can monitor and control the climate conditions in our greenhouse from anywhere with an internet connection via their online platform. We can monitor and control the air temperature, humidity level, light level, CO2 concentration, wind speed, and leaf temperature in the greenhouse. For each independent recirculating pond we can precisely add pH and nutrient adjusted solutions using a Priva Nutrifit system and monitor the pH, EC, water temperature, dissolved oxygen, and Oxidation Reduction Potential (ORP) in real time.

The Priva system notifies growing staff if climate variables are out of range so actions can be taken to resolve problems quickly and to return to optimal conditions. This high level of control and monitoring allows Campo Caribe to optimize the growing conditions at all times to produce high quality lettuce all year round, empowering the farm to hit 95% fulfillment for our customers.

Energy efficiency is a significant focus for Campo Caribe, as demonstrated by your energy management system and facility design. How do these systems contribute to reducing overall energy consumption while still meeting the demands of a large-scale lettuce operation – and what are the expected benefits in terms of cost savings and environmental impact?

Campo Caribe Team with Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierluisi
Campo Caribe Team with Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierluisi at press conference

To reduce our daily electrical usage, Campo Caribe is utilizing a Deep Sea Electronics generator controller to perform advanced electrical dispatching and integrate with Priva and the major loads of the facility. An easily programable load shed system turns off major electrical loads in the facility to save energy and to prevent overloading our electrical service and back-up generator. We prioritize the dispatching of power to equipment needed to maintain an optimal production climate for our plants including operations of the greenhouse roof and shade curtains, fogging system, and water recirculation pumps. We will only run some equipment at night, such as the Priva Nutrifit, to fill up the production ponds in order to reduce power consumption during the day when we are harvesting and packaging.

Other parts of our operation including the refrigerated warehouse were designed to maximize energy efficiency. Excess insulation in the warehouse and packing room coupled with fast acting roll-up doors will maintain cold food safe temperatures using less energy from the cycling of condensing units.

In case of electrical outages, we have a back-up generator that can support the entire facility. We are continuing our research to determine when our peak power demand occurs, and we are working with Ageto Energy to provide for a variety of power sources in the future. Ageto Energy’s ARC system will ultimately act as the single interface for the disparate energy resources and will optimize to provide the cheapest, cleanest, and most reliable power.

This unique power system and facility design allows us to be more reliable in the face of power outages and storms and provide a more sustainable product with less carbon emissions for our customers.

 

Learn more about Campo Caribe and keep up with its progress here — www.campocaribe.com 

Press Conference With Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierluisi
Puerto Rico Governor and General Manager in Research Greenhouse
Puerto Rico Governor and General Manager in Campo Caribe Research Greenhouse

Campo Caribe hosted a press conference on Monday, May 13 where Puerto Rico Governor Pedro R. Pierluisi and other officials participated in the announcement of the company’s expansion plans. Check out some of the press coverage from outlets, including:

Sin Comillas.com, Ey Boricua, WIPR, WAPA

 

 

Harvest Today: Revolutionizing Local Food Cultivation, One Wall At A Time

Photo by Darcy Finley

Harvest Today is on a mission to transform local food cultivation, one wall at a time. From addressing food insecurity to building collaborative partnerships and embracing sustainability, the company is driven by a commitment to practical change. In this month’s CEA Q&A, Director of Global Sales and Marketing Peter Maher sheds light on the company’s straightforward approach to simplify, empower and revolutionize local food cultivation through its innovative Harvest Wall systems.

Harvest Today’s tag line is “Indoor Farming Made Simple.” Can you elaborate on how your Harvest Wall systems are revolutionizing indoor food production and what sets them apart from other methods currently in use within the CEA industry?

When developing the Harvest Wall, we had two objectives – maximize plant count per square foot and make growing SIMPLE – The Harvest Wall achieves both.

Farming, in and of itself is a simple concept – plant, grow, harvest – repeat. Though we all know it’s never that simple, especially indoors, that’s really what it comes down to.

The Harvest Wall Vertigation™ System was developed with the idea of simplicity always top of mind.

Every aspect of the wall was purposefully designed with the user in mind — from the stackable grow tiles, that make the grow system more economical for manufacturing and shipping, offer the best plant density per square foot available and are able to fit in any shape/size grow space — to the patented Vertigation™ System and flood rail, providing precision fertigation and eliminating the need for emitters.

Each Harvest Wall comes ready to go and is equipped with all the hardware and electronics needed to start growing. There is an integrated reservoir, irrigation pump and controller that can be accessed manually or through a smart phone. Whether you are a beginner or experienced grower – the Harvest Wall Vertigation™ System can suit your needs.

Your mission includes empowering communities to address food insecurity at its source. Could you share any examples of how your technology has already made a positive impact on local food access and sustainability?

Photo by Darcy Finley

A natural focus of Harvest Today’s sales has been the Canadian Market – where Founder, Rick Langille is from. Canada has no shortage of rural, northern hemisphere regions where fresh produce is simply unavailable. Harvest Today currently has several operating farms in rural communities across Canada. We work with numerous First Nation organizations for not only food production, but also ceremonial herbs and spices no longer available to the indigenous peoples of the area.

Collaboration seems to be a key aspect of Harvest Today’s approach, as evidenced by your partnerships with other suppliers, distributors, and growers. Can you elaborate on the importance of collaboration in driving innovation and scalability within the indoor ag sector, and how these partnerships are contributing to the success of Harvest Wall systems?

Photo by Darcy Finley

The phrase, “It Takes A Village,” always comes to mind when discussing Harvest Today’s partnerships and collaborations. Yes, we build walls, that’s what we do. But Harvest Today isn’t just here to build walls – our objective is to GROW FOOD, and we can’t do it alone. Having solid trusted partners to help round out the offering and provide expertise in their field is our village – whether it’s lighting, cooling, consumables or anything in-between, we want to be able to point our customers in the right direction.

I’d like to call out SpectraGrow here, as our go-to LED lighting partner. Having SpectraGrow as a resource means we can confidently provide our customers with the latest in LED hardware and technology. With so many options out there – it can be daunting for a potential customer to just google “grow lights.”  We want to be that resource and having trusted partners is the only way to do it.

The company’s interest in ESG initiatives, particularly in bringing Harvest Walls to schools and prisons, is noteworthy. How do you envision these efforts making a positive impact, both in terms of food access and broader community engagement with sustainable agriculture practices

A cool thing about this business – for the most part, is that what’s good for ESG, is also usually good for business.  It’s not a this or that sort of situation. No matter how or where a Harvest Wall is being used – it’s growing local food – and that’s what we’re here for.

We are very proud ESG efforts and make them a focus of our everyday operations and lives. From an access point of view – when we say we’re here to grow food, we mean it! That’s the number one objective, grow local healthy food. The positive impact of just that, growing local healthy food, knows no bounds.

Looking ahead, what exciting developments or initiatives can we expect from Harvest Today in the coming months?

We will be launching our 4 port grow tile for the Harvest Today Harvest Wall Vertigation™ System. Our standard 6 port grow tile consists of 6 2” plant ports. The 4 port grow tile will have 4 3.25” plant ports. The volume of each port on the 4 port grow tile will be nearly 5x that of the 2” ports. This will provide a significantly larger root zone greatly expanding the portfolio of plants that can be grown in a Harvest Wall – most notably – larger fruiting and vining plants like tomatoes, strawberries, cucumbers, peppers, and more.

 

Harvest Today

 

For more information on Harvest Today, visit the website.

Produce Grower Magazine: Rooftop Empire

This full article by Mike Zawaki was published by Produce Grower in April 2024

Produce GrowerFor greenhouse growers, the siren song of growth and expansion is undeniable. It whispers increased yields, broader markets and greater financial stability. But like any seductive melody, it masks a treacherous undertow. While brimming with potential, challenges lurk unseen, ready to overwhelm with complexities, resource strains and logistical nightmares.

(Photo Above- Gotham Greens CEO Viraj Puri, copyright Gotham Greens) 

A fundamental entrepreneurial principle, especially relevant for greenhouse growers, is that expansion should be a deliberate strategic decision, not solely a reaction to opportunity. This principle rings true for Brooklyn, New York-based Gotham Greens, which has navigated numerous recent expansion projects with calculated precision. Led by the visionary leadership of co-founders Viraj Puri (CEO) and Eric Haley (CFO) and Chief Greenhouse Officer Jenn Frymark and supported by a dedicated internal team of horticulture pros, Gotham Greens carefully examined every expansion challenge and established effective best practices. This has empowered the grower to overcome the complexities of a revolutionary way of growing and providing fresh produce in the U.S.

Today, Gotham Greens is synonymous with urban agriculture and cutting-edge, sustainable growing practices, and its growth and expansion wouldn’t be done justice without highlighting its rapid ascent in the greenhouse grower market.

Its legacy is rooted in the heart of Brooklyn, New York, an urban, culturally diverse foodie paradise. In 2009, Puri and Haley collaborated on a shared dream to provide fresh, pesticide-free, sustainably grown produce directly to local communities. Two years later, the vision materialized on a Greenpoint neighborhood rooftop with Gotham Greens’ first 15,000-square-foot soilless hydroponic greenhouse, marking a milestone in traditional farming. At its heart, this revolutionary model addressed long-held agricultural challenges — how to overcome long distances, mitigate environmental impact and provide greater access to fresh, locally produced foods.

Continue Reading From Produce Grower…

Indoor Ag Revolution: Citi’s Adam Bergman Shares Strategies For Growth, Sustainability

In this Q&A following his keynote address at last week’s Indoor Ag-Con 2024, “Indoor Farming – The Next Revolution In Agriculture,” Adam Bergman, Global Head of AgTech Investment Banking for Citi, sheds light on the promising trajectory of indoor farming despite the challenges encountered in 2023. He discusses the pivotal role of technology, financial strategies, crop diversification, funding opportunities, and strategic partnerships in propelling the indoor farming sector towards a sustainable and prosperous future.

Q: In your keynote, you talked about the promising future of indoor farming despite setbacks in 2023.  Can you elaborate on specific strategies and/or innovations that you believe will drive the rapid growth of indoor farming, especially in the context of the mega trends of food security, sustainability, and health & nutrition?

A: Food security, sustainable food systems, and health & nutrition are the biggest drivers of indoor farming. Food security initially spurred on indoor farming because of the supply chain disruptions caused by the Covid pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. As a result,  the trend toward food globalization that started following World War II has gone into reverse. In the past few years, a growing number of countries, especially those in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) that generated a huge amount of money during a period of high energy costs, speak more about food self-sufficiency and the role of indoor farming. Indoor farming is attractive to the GCC, because they do not have enough arable land and/or an optimal climate to grow outdoors.

As climate change persists, conditions are getting harsher for outdoor farmers, who are forced to deal with increasing weather volatility. Additionally, the global population is expected to reach 10 billion by 2050, which will necessitate roughly a 50% increase in the amount of food produced. Farmers, working with governments and NGOs around the globe, are going to need to figure out how to grow more with similar or fewer resources (chemical fertilizers, crop chemicals & pesticides, land, and water). Since indoor farms typically don’t use chemical fertilizers, crop chemicals or pesticides, and use significantly less land and water, they are a better solution for more environmentally sustainable agriculture.

The consumer also plays a key role in the food system. Previously, consumers were frequently beholden to CPG companies and retailers to purchase food. However, there have been significant changes in how consumers, particularly in the developed world, purchase food (direct-to-consumer, online purchases, food delivery, and meal kits), which is disintermediating many incumbents. Gen Z and Millennials especially are pushing back against industrial agriculture, which has played a large part in the ecological harm to soil and contamination of ground water, lakes, rivers, streams, and oceans, as well as damaging human health, as obesity rates have soared globally. Today, more consumers are demanding fresher, healthier and more nutritious foods that is grown sustainably. Indoor farms can be built on sites close to population centers, one advantage of which is having a much shorter supply chain.  Consumers can buy produce that lasts longer before spoiling and indoor farmers can grow products for taste, texture, and nutrient density rather than yield and logistics, which are priority for outdoor farmers shipping across North America or around the globe. In total, these three mega trends of food security, sustainable food systems and health & nutrition are poised to have a significant impact in accelerating on the growth of indoor farming globally.

Q:  Your extensive experience in Clean Energy Transition and AgTech investment banking positions you at the intersection of technology innovation and climate change.  How do you envision technology advancements influencing the future of indoor farming, and what role can financial institutions play in supporting these technological innovations for sustainable growth? 

A: Innovations in the greenhouse sector have accelerated over the past 150 years, with automation & robotics, building materials, digitization, more efficient water usage and improved energy efficiency all driving progress recently. The vertical farming sector is poised for similar transformational changes as LED light technology advances, and seed genetics are optimized to grow plants under various light spectrums. Once more indoor farms get to a point where key risks have been mitigated (financial performance, including positive EBITDA, multiple farms operating at full capacity, project developers with a strong track-record, and customer off-take agreements), financial institutions can play a significant role in financing new indoor farms, similar to the role they played in the growth of solar and wind projects. Once bankruptcy risks for indoor farming companies and projects are substantially reduced, opportunities will open up for project finance with 70+% debt to develop indoor farming and cheaper capital from insurance companies and pension funds looking for strong, long-term cash-flowing entities.

Q: In your presentation, you touched on the expansion of crop production into areas like  higher-margin produce, pharmaceuticals and specialty ingredients.  Could you provide insights into strategic considerations for indoor farmers looking to diversify their crop portfolios, and what opportunities you foresee in these emerging markets?

One of the challenges many vertical farming companies face is high production costs. This is mainly due to limited production capacity and high capital expense and operation costs currently. As vertical farms continue to struggle to be cost competitive with outdoor grown produce and many greenhouses, it is extremely important to diversify away from leafy greens to grow other products that command higher prices. This is similar to the biofuels sector two decades ago, when various companies decided to compete against the commoditized fuel sector rather than specialty chemicals, which could be sold at a much higher price point. Those companies that tried to compete against commoditized fuels frequently went bankrupt as they were capital intensive and did not have the requisite scale or cost structure to be economic.  Only those companies that focused on specialty chemicals were able to achieve a cost structure that made economic sense and, as they expanded and optimized production, were able to reduce costs and become cost competitive with more commoditized end-markets.  Based on the trends I have seen, I believe the same thing will occur with vertical farms, which should look to provide a variety of products that can be sold at higher prices (berries, coffee, forestry, pharmaceuticals, specialty ingredients), and ultimately to achieve economies of scale and drive costs down.

Q: In the context of securing funding for sustainable growth in the indoor farming sector, you mentioned leveraging the USDA loan program and other non-dilutive sources of capital.  Can you offer practical advice for businesses in the CEA industry on accessing these funding opportunities and navigating the financial landscape successfully?

The equity capital markets remain extremely challenging for most early- and growth-stage companies, with the traditional debt markets available for only a few of the largest, most profitable indoor farming companies. In challenging capital markets, it is more important that companies look for creative non-dilutive sources of capital. The two areas that show the most promise are government grants and government-backed loans. To this end, several companies have been able to secure state and local incentives to build new indoor farms in various locations throughout the US. Additionally, a growing number of indoor farming companies have accessed USDA loan guarantees. The advantage of loans associated with the USDA is they typically come at lower interest rates and frequently have lower covenants. Capital will remain one of the biggest obstacles for expanding indoor farming operations throughout North America and the rest of the world.

Q:  Strategic partnerships play a key role in the success  of companies in the indoor farming sector.  From your perspective, how can companies best approach and establish meaningful collaborations with partners like crop input providers, suppliers, retailers and others  to drive innovation and overcome challenges?

A: Like many highly capital-intensive growth sectors, indoor farming faces challenges in validating their business as a prerequisite to accessing capital, both equity and debt. In particularly difficult capital markets, strategic partners provide a means of validation for investors. It is also equally important to establish relationships with key customers, both food service and retailers. Finally, to be an attractive to potential investors, indoor farming companies need to be able to answer the following questions posed by investors:

1) What is your proof that you can build an indoor farm and scale production?

2) Are there consumers who want to buy your products?

3) Will consumers buy your products at a price where you can generate positive gross profit and EBITDA margins?

Those companies with positive answers will find an increasing amount of capital availability for growth, whereas those that struggle, particularly to generate positive financial metrics, will find sources of capital limited.

Innovating for Tomorrow: Good Natured Highlights Sustainable Packaging Trend

 

good natured Products Inc. (Indoor Ag-Con 2024 Booth #1323) has been making bio-based packaging since 2006 and has witnessed transformative changes in packaging expectations, driven by a deepening commitment to sustainability and a keen response to regulatory and consumer demands. The landscape is changing fast, and companies are trying to make sense of what’s best for their business and the environment. Sometimes, this complexity leads to confusion, and when people are confused, they might hesitate to act. Part of the company’s approach is to provide simplified, actionable insights to make it as easy as possible to make the switch to sustainable packaging.

Key trends to Watch:

  1. Brand Loyalty through Sustainability: Businesses are seeing sustainable packaging as more than an environmental choice—it’s a brand builder. With a significant majority of consumers favoring eco-conscious packaging, adopting recyclable, compostable, and reusable options is becoming a strategic priority for companies that want to stay ahead.
  2. Clarity is King: Transparent packaging isn’t just aesthetically pleasing; it’s a trust builder, offering consumers a clear view of the product, assuring them of its freshness and quality—a critical decision factor in today’s market.
  3. Navigating Regulatory Shifts: The dynamic regulatory environment demands agility and foresight. Collaborating with packaging experts can help businesses stay compliant and help avoid the pitfalls of investing in a packaging platform that may be at risk of regulation in the coming years.
  4. Focus on Freshness and Safety: A combination of materials, closures and design choices can have an impact on enhancing product longevity and safety, both of which are crucial in minimizing waste and boosting consumer confidence.
  5. Material Simplification: Optimizing materials for better recycling and composting is becoming a key topic to reducing environmental impact and promoting a circular economy in packaging. Although the EU has been moving faster on this front, similar approaches are expected to come to North America in the coming years.

As the agri-food sector evolves, so does its approach to sustainability, extending beyond packaging to encompass all aspects of operation, from water conservation to energy efficiency. Indoor Ag-Con provides a platform to explore these innovations, underscoring the industry’s commitment to sustainable practices.

We’re eager to engage with the forward-thinking community at Indoor Ag-Con, sharing insights and exploring sustainable packaging solutions that align with broader environmental goals,” remarks Paul Antoniadis, CEO of good natured®. “Sustainability is a journey, and every step, no matter how small, is part of our collective path toward environmental change, and from our experience your customers will reward your efforts.”

Visit good natured Products Inc. at Indoor Ag-Con to delve into these trends and discover how integrating sustainable packaging into your business can create value and a positive environmental impact.

Navigating CEA Food Safety: Candid Q&A With Ceres Certifications, International President

Join us for a candid conversation with Dr. Karl Kolb, President of Ceres Certifications, International, and Ceres University, as he sheds light on the essentials of food safety in controlled environment agriculture (CEA). Ahead of his CEA Food Safety Workshop at the March 2024 edition of Indoor Ag-Con, Dr. Kolb delves into the practical aspects of GFSI (Global Food Safety Initiative) standards, addressing common misconceptions. From understanding the risk-based approach in CEA to incorporating technology into safety measures, this Q&A provides straightforward insights. Dr. Kolb also offers pragmatic advice on how CEA operators can balance sustainability with the need for robust food safety.

How does the application of GFSI standards benefit controlled environment agriculture (CEA) operations, and what specific challenges or considerations should CEA operators be aware of when seeking food safety certification for their facilities?

Let me start by saying GFSI food safety standards are largely misunderstood across the entire food industry.  From their development, what they represent and how they are applied. It may sound unusual but if the owners and operators of food operations understood them, they would place them as their top priority in their daily schedule.  The leaders would not go home at night nor would any of their employees until every item in their food safety plan was checked, doublechecked and rechecked.

Food Safety Certification and GFSI StandardsThere are so many unique ways a GFSI or any “certificated” (non-GFSI) food safety standard benefits the operator. Defining “Operator” is anyone directly involved in any aspect of the food operation. From those who sell inputs such as seed, to those who plant the seed, those who irrigate, control watering, clean and sanitize, pull maintenance, process or pack, sell and ship the finished product — they are all operators.

Literally the information on food safety programs and their attributes would fill the Library of Congress.  And the quality systems that are used to apply the “standard” as we say, would fill a second Library of Congress.  Let me be clear, the application of a GFSI or food safety standard is the same across the board, to any food safety operation, CEA or the larger food industry. That statement scares CEA operators. CEA operators, like organic growers or small farmers, spend their life differentiating themselves from their counterparts.  Each one, and rightfully so believes and feels in their heart that they are uniquely different and performing the most important service to the public.  I cannot disagree with any of this because each operator is doing a phenomenal service to the largely unknowing public.

CEA operators should not fear the application of the GFSI standard. If, and that is a big if to be discussed later, it is applied correctly the CEA operator would intuitively know how greatly it benefits them. In short, each standard in a food safety scheme (Schemes are GFSI programs such as SQF, PGFS and HACCP to name a few.) is based on one of three or all three tenants; science, regulatory codes, and industry norms.  While there are variations of the GFSI schemes to accommodate the differences in some farming activities such as greenhouse farming by example, largely all food safety schemes inherently possess the same core requirements.  It’s how they are applied that makes the difference in each different operation.

Are there specialized considerations for food safety in CEA that may differ from traditional agriculture, and if so, how can operators navigate these nuances?

Herein is the one of my favorite topics about the application of the standard.  It is risk based.  In other words, each standard is applied the same but differently, based on a risk analysis. No matter what part of the food industry the operation is working in, the standard is the same.  This fact alone is one of the particular strengths of the GFSI system. The “specialized considerations” mentioned in your question are invoked at the time the auditor asks the question from the standard. Navigating these nuances as you stated are not what most people believe – for sure it’s not fancy footwork during an audit or attractive paperwork.  By example, I write some of the most boring, grammatically incorrect, ugly looking programs and policies, reports and logs ever.  Pretty and poetic is great but it doesn’t necessarily mean there is a meaningful robust program, “under the hood”, so to speak.

CEA Food SafetyThe “navigation” begins at the beginning (There is a song by Artie Shaw with a similar name referring to a dance or relationship from the 1920s that may have some carryover when applying the standard?) and thrives throughout the program and over time. It is the analysis of the particular “clause” in a food safety standard – this analysis begins with a complete understanding of what the clause is asking specifically and how it is intended to be applied.  Remember I spoke earlier about how a standard or clause is built? Science, regulatory and industry norms? A short explanation of Risk Analysis is in order to understand the next piece.  A risk analysis is a process which entails identifying risk, defining uncertainty, completing analysis models and implementing solutions.

Now I must back up a bit.  Life is about backing up and moving forward.  Just like learning from an audit.  The risk analysis is where the CEA operator differs from the larger industry and even his co-operators down the street. There is a yin and yang relationship between the auditor and the operator.  The auditor applies a process involving the standard or clause.  The auditor understands the standard and clause. He looks to the operator as the expert on the ground to explain how the operator applied the principles of risk analysis to the standard and what the operator’s solution or program properly answers the clause.

I’m sure by now the questions of how CEA differs from the larger industry and its fellow brethren are becoming clear.

Two absolutes must be respected in this dance (somehow credit Artie) or the yin and yang relationship.  1) The auditor must know his job and understand his or her role in the audit, 2) The operator must know his or her job of performing a risk analysis and explaining it to the auditor. That is the strength and difference CEA operators are looking for in GFSI audits.  However, finding #1 and #2 is like finding “hen’s teeth”. So sadly, audits become a checklist affair,  almost worthless and get a bad rap.

As a leader of a food safety certifying body, you’ve likely encountered various compliance issues.  What are some common misconceptions or overlooked aspects related to food safety that you believe CEA operators should be more aware of to improve the safety of their produce?

Not sure if I’m a leader but more of a learner or supporter.  We are largely a body of awesome women who I absolutely (adore) believe are the strength of this organization.  I have chosen smart, educated, dedicated and loyal women who don’t need to be told what to do or how to do it.

Our challenge is many-fold. It involves resources.  Time, money, training, staff needs and lastly, but first, compliance.

cEA Food safety 3My academic background is about quality.  Quality is defined properly, partially by the ISO system and my experience, “Quality standards are sets of good manufacturing practices (“Best Practices”), methods, systems, requirements, and or specifications established by science, regulators and industry to help operators achieve and demonstrate consistent production and product qualities.” Do not confuse quality with quality.  We are not talking about quality like the organoleptic head of lettuce qualities, although quality systems do define this commodity standard.  Quality is all about consistency.

A great and successful example is McDonalds.  Sadly, my default menu on too many occasions. They grew fast and successfully by using a quality model. The bros McDonald correctly set their goal as fast, good, cheap and consistent burgers across the land.  It’s not that the burgers are the best ever (sorry bros however the fish sandwich is the best) but everything from the sandwich itself to the service is consistently the same.  Go anywhere and the McDonalds experience is not 100% every time, listen well, it’s the same experience every time. Manufacturing excellence is achieved through consistency. And to those who are manufacturers we know that it’s not 100% that is achieved every time but the 90% mark is where quality is achieved.

Compliance at the operator level is all about consistency.  A food safety program cannot run at 100%, but it can run properly at 90% and achieve science, regulatory and industry expectations. The challenge of both myself as a certification body and that of the operator is keeping up and applying the science, regulations and industry expectations in auditors and operators as they work though (think root cause analysis) risk analysis solutions.

The audit is not meant to be a checklist drill but the yin and yang of auditor and operator.

As technology continues to play a significant role in CEA, how do advancements in automation and data-driven systems impact food safety protocols, and what advice do you have for growers looking to integrate these technologies while maintaining a strong food safety program?

Automation should serve the food safety program, not drive, define or prescribe it.  I once asked a very wise and experienced individual with a very large certifying body how he conducted audits. This gentleman told me he would take a blank yellow pad and walk into a food plant and begin asking questions.  He had infinite knowledge of the standard. He went and asked questions until he got the answers that rang true.  This is the ultimate in determining the robustness of a food safety program. I’m sure the yellow pad had a lot to do with it too.

As I taught in the classroom, you define automation, don’t let it define you.  All too often we fall for the “sizzle” of what these systems are said to do and we find out the sizzle is not from a tenderloin but a burger. (My apologies to the bros McDonald.)

With the growing importance of sustainability in agriculture,  how can CEA operators balance the use of sustainable practices with the need for rigorous food safety measures.  Are there specific certifications or guidelines they should consider?  

CEA food safety 5As you can tell by now, my perspective on food safety is different from anything else – I learned as a manufacturing engineer that when things don’t work as they should (different from the standard) you go back to the basics and start over – in this case, the basics of quality.

I started this interview by saying GFSI food safety standards are largely misunderstood across the entire food industry. Here again, I must separate the norm from what I believe is important. We as an industry do not understand quality systems and their concepts or requirements.

Sustainability is all about quality systems.  Quality systems are not a point in time like an audit. Nor is sustainability.  The question is, “How do we sustain quality?” Sustainability has become defined as a social construct. Wrong. Sustainability is doing the same thing consistently and improving time after time for a sustained period of time. Not more or new twists of the standard.

I have tried in this interview to impress your readers that the GFSI system must be embraced in a quality fashion.  As a process and not in a one-time checklist inspection.  While we gloat that GFSI is the best food safety system in the world and the US leads the way, we all drank the kool-aid.

We have been lucky as a nation illness-wise, to date.  As the demand for food increases what we do now, what we call food safety of trying to pass a once-a-year chaotic intervention (annual audit) of our operations, is not sustainable.

A good friend (Bob Wright) sums it this way, “Does it make the food any safer?”

Thanks for listening and apologies to anyone offended, especially the bros McDonald.

 

Karl Kolb, Ph.D., is the founder and President of the High Sierra Group companies, which services more than 10,000 customers with Ceres Certifications, International (ISO 17065 food safety certifying body), HSG/AME Certified Laboratories (17025 food testing laboratories), Ceres University (Accredited, degree granting), High Sierra Chemicals and Epicure Farms.

 

 

Unlock the Secrets To A Safer, Higher Quality Harvest With March 2024 CEA Food Safety Workshop  Registration Fee Includes
Expo Floor Access & Up To 3 CEUs

LEARN MORE & REGISTER TODAY!

Internal auditing certification is a mandatory GFSI (Global Food Safety Initiative) requirement that demonstrates an individual’s ability to conduct internal assessments of any food safety program.  Indoor Ag-Con has partnered with Ceres University, a leading provider of IACET-accredited food safety training and certification, to offer a cost-effective, convenient way to build your career AND help fulfill GFSI scheme requirements. Workshop fee 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.

LEARN MORE & REGISTER TODAY!

 

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.

 

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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.

Trend Report – Indoor Ag-Con 2024

JANUARY 14, 2024   Indoor Ag-Con returns March 11-12 to Caesars Forum offering  attendees an insider look into the driving forces behind the ever-evolving vertical farming | greenhouse | controlled environment agriculture industry. Boasting an expanded Expo Hall with 200+ exhibiting companies offering the most cutting-edge products, services and tools on the market, Indoor Ag-Con will offer an immersive experience to farmers, growers, ag tech leaders, suppliers, advocates and enthusiasts.

(Photos above from L-R: Tetraponics, New Age Laboratories, Oreon, Lifetime Green Coatings, Climate Control Systems Inc.)

Below are some of the most impactful trends shaping the indoor agriculture industry today and a selection of product highlights from Indoor Ag-Con 2024 exhibitors.

GO GREENER

Sustainability in indoor agriculture is a critical focus in modern farming practices, addressing environmental concerns and promoting efficient resource utilization. Indoor farming allows for precise control over environmental factors such as temperature, humidity, and light, minimizing the need for pesticides and fertilizers. This results in reduced environmental impact compared to traditional outdoor farming. The controlled environment facilitates year-round production, reducing the reliance on seasonal cycles and transportation costs. By incorporating renewable energy sources and implementing innovative technologies, indoor agriculture contributes to a more sustainable and resilient food production system, aligning with the growing global emphasis on environmentally conscious practices.

Key Indoor Ag-Con exhibitors promoting their sustainable focus include:

Lifetime Green Coatings’ (Booth 906) industrial-grade, environmentally friendly concrete floor coating is VOC-free, food-safe, slip-resistant, and easy to apply—making it ideal for any business that handles food, plants, or livestock. 3x as thick as your average epoxy, allowing for durability, while remaining 100% flexible moving with the surface underneath. Create a safer and healthier operational environment with long-lasting, non-toxic coatings that help prevent the growth of mold, mildew, and bacteria.

Oreon (Booth 1320) is a Dutch, innovative developer and manufacturer of high-tech LED grow lights. Oreon started 15 years ago with the first commercial project with water-cooled Oreon LED fixtures installed in 2009. Now, the LED fixtures are worldwide deployed in the horticulture and vertical/indoor farming industry above various types of crops.

Environmental Plant Management (Booth 521) stands at the forefront of eco-friendly plant protection, manufacturing natural solutions in the USA. Their innovative products are distinguished by their use of catalytic enzymes, providing highly effective plant care without the drawbacks of oil, persistent odors, or residues. With 3rd party lab-documented success against a spectrum of pests and diseases, our products represent a leap forward in sustainable and effective plant care. Look out for new products including the 3 in 1 plant wash, ECO Green, an innovative solution that cleans plant leaves, roots, and acts as an effective pest management alternative and Clear Zona, a game-changer in plant yield enhancement.

NEW AGE Laboratories (Booth 1417) is a family-owned and operated business established in 1998 as an environmental laboratory working for clients like NASA and the Dept. of Defense. Their early focus on environmental jobs laid the foundation for a path rooted in scientific innovation and commitment to global betterment. The vision evolved with the world’s agricultural needs leading New Age to be the first Laboratory in North America to offer Plant Sap Analysis. Today, NEW AGE Laboratories stands at the intersection of cutting-edge science and agricultural excellence.

SMART AGRICULTURE

Indoor agriculture’s  integration of cutting-edge technologies has allowed farmers to create controlled environments that optimize crop growth and enhance overall productivity. Smart greenhouse construction boasting the latest technologies to increase productivity and sustainability. Additionally, vertical farming, hydroponics, and aquaponics systems leverage technology to maximize space utilization and resource efficiency, reducing the ecological footprint of agriculture. This seamless synergy between technology and indoor agriculture not only ensures year-round crop production but also fosters sustainable farming practices in an increasingly resource-constrained world.

At Indoor Ag-Con, key exhibitors driving the Smart Agriculture trend include:

Agra Tech Greenhouse Manufacturers (Booth 518) specializes in manufacturing commercial greenhouses and related technologies. Their offerings include a variety of greenhouse structures, advanced climate control systems, lighting, fertigation, irrigation, and customization options. Emphasizing energy efficiency and sustainability, Agra Tech caters to a diverse range of clients, from small farms to large commercial growers and educational institutions, providing not only products but also support and consulting services.

Netafim (Booth 1017) strives to provide growers with the best, most effective solutions. They have a total of 70 years of Dutch heritage in glasshouse manufacturing. Along with Netafim’s worldwide presence and precision innovation in the agricultural industry. We ensure that our turnkey commercial greenhouse projects are implemented with our comprehensive agricultural expertise, manufacturing competence, and the latest technology.

Agritecture (Booth 1216) is an advisory services and technology firm focused on climate-smart agriculture, particularly urban and controlled environment agriculture. Their mission is to accelerate and empower the transition to smarter and more resilient agriculture, and our vision is a new era where agriculture is economically feasible, resilient to climate change, and powered by data-driven strategies.

SpectraGrow (Booth 207) offers 3D Plant Lighting for Vertical Farming. They build precision LED systems for controlled environment agriculture. By solving 3D photon uniformity challenges in vertical AgTech, SpectraGrow, uniquely increases farm profitability with less electricity usage, more harvests, greater yields, and better plant quality.

Groupe Eode (Booth 1306) proudly introduces the AgroECU+, the advanced all-in-one grow room HVAC system designed to elevate standards for commercial growers. With a focus on precision temperature and humidity control, remarkable energy efficiency, and the added benefits of ionization through GPS Air NPBItechnology, Group Eode creates an environment that blends optimal conditions for cultivation with a touch of innovation and sophistication. The integration of air diffusion solutions from Aero Textile Concept (ATC), validated for performance using Computational Fluid Mechanics (CFD), further enhances the effectiveness of AgroECU+.

AUTOMATION=LABOR OPTIMIZATION

Automation in indoor farming has further strengthened traditional agricultural practices by integrating cutting-edge technologies to enhance efficiency and precision. In this context, various automated systems are employed to control and monitor crucial factors such as temperature, humidity, light, and nutrient levels within controlled environments. Additionally, artificial intelligence enables real-time data analysis, allowing farmers to make informed decisions for crop management. The implementation of automation not only increases productivity, but also promotes sustainability by minimizing resource waste.

Indoor Ag-Con exhibitors boasting Automation capabilities include:

Thanks to years of experience, Artechno Growsystems (Booth 400) has the know-how, skills, and expertise that benefits customers worldwide. The futuristic technology is not the goal but a means to achieve the best cultivation results. With a plant-oriented approach, technology, and a healthy dose of guts, Artechno Growsystems realizes a new standard within vertical growing with their AVF+. With the fully automated AVF+ Factory, Artechno takes care of all processes for the grower; the input and output of this turnkey plant factory are the same every day. The plants also get everything their plant-hearts desire, such as the right light intensity, temperature, nutrients, CO2, airflow, and humidity.

Grow Director Ltd.(Booth 1319) is a 6-year-old Agri-Tech company offering climate control and automation systems for vertical farms and greenhouses. The system stands out for its modular and scalable design and consists of six independent modules, each to perform its own task, multiple sensors and AI-driven software. It offers multiple solutions, including full hydroponics automation (irrigation, injection, dosing, mixing, water quality control), electrical devices automation (turn on / off, power control), environmental data collection, its analysis and environment control based on it.

Tetraponics (Booth 1416) designs and manufacture hydroponic automation systems. The FLORATek line of automated dosing systems is on its 2nd generation and features a simple user interface, while also featuring enhanced modularity and connectivity. debuting new dosing pumps that will enable the FLORATek 3X to be compatible with any size hydroponic setup. They will also be showing off some commercial-specific capabilities of their online portal, used to remotely monitor and control your systems from anywhere in the world with any device.

Ryzee (Booth 715) provides end-to-end solutions that enable CEA farmers with data-driven automation tools to increase efficiency. Their solutions combine web applications, mobile applications, cloud computing, and IoT sensing and control devices.

Climate Control Systems Inc. (Booth 512) has been manufacturing greenhouse automation systems since 1985. Their CEA automation software and solutions help achieve a better crop while saving precious grower time. Their three main solutions are the Fertigation Manager, Climate Manager and Ozone Pro Water TreatmentSystems. They are also distributors for Watts Water filtration Products and Climate Controls Inc vent motors, rack & pinions that are designed to help CEA owners maximize crop yields, help manage energy costs and help with water & fertilizer conservation.

For more information on the 2024 exhibitors, please see who’s exhibiting here.

ABOUT INDOOR AG-CON:

Founded in 2013, Indoor Ag-Con has emerged as the largest trade show and conference for vertical farming | greenhouse |controlled environment agriculture. Its events are crop-agnostic and touch all sectors of the business, covering produce, legal cannabis | hemp, alternate protein and non-food crops. More information, visit www.indoor.ag