Stackable farming for economically and environmentally sustainable urban food production

Award Information
Agency: Department of Agriculture
Branch: N/A
Contract: 2017-33610-26971
Agency Tracking Number: 2017-00156
Amount: $100,000.00
Phase: Phase I
Program: SBIR
Solicitation Topic Code: 8.12
Solicitation Number: N/A
Timeline
Solicitation Year: 2017
Award Year: 2017
Award Start Date (Proposal Award Date): 2017-09-01
Award End Date (Contract End Date): 2018-02-28
Small Business Information
7500 GREENWAY CENTER DRIVE SUITE 1130, Greenbelt, MD, 20770-3571
DUNS: 094078958
HUBZone Owned: N
Woman Owned: N
Socially and Economically Disadvantaged: N
Principal Investigator
 Daniel Theobald
 Co-Found, CIO
 (617) 864-0636
 theo@vecna.com
Business Contact
 Dori Ducharme
Title: Director of Finance
Phone: (617) 864-0636
Email: dori.ducharme@vecna.com
Research Institution
N/A
Abstract
More than ever before, we have the tools to measure and identify historical trends. With this information, we can predict the future of food security, and the outlook is dire. The data suggests that traditional methods of farming are wearing on the ecosystem, the U.S. economy, and our health. Armed with a forward-looking mindset and technological advances, we will be able to develop healthier, more sustainable methods for food production. Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) is gaining popularity, but its economics are still dif?cult. Better use of automation technology may help close the gap and bring with it the numerous other bene?ts CEA has to offer. Together, these methods can reduce costs for the production and shipping of fresh produce, reduce the impact of traditional farming methods on the environment, and increase access to whole foods in urban food deserts. In this Phase I research project, Vecna proposes to introduce an innovative pallet-based growing solution that lends itself to robotic automation in order to help address food security, labor issues, climate change, environmental issues, and access to wholesome food in poor urban areas.We anticipate that the project will result in a modular, low-cost farming system that can be easily placed in any building or vacant lot that has suf?cient access to electricity. For certain crops and seasons, this system should produce a higher-quality product for the local market at overall lower costs than traditional farming methods. In addition, urban municipalities, and even governmental (e.g., U.S. Army) or non-governmental organizations (NGOs) may implement such a system for areas impacted by con?ict, extreme weather, and the migration of refugees. The speci?cations for this design will be published as open-source speci?cations, hopefully leading to emerging standards of interoperability for the whole industry.According to the USDA, 13.5 million people live in what is de?ned as a food desert, with the majority - 82% - living in urban areas. In the absence of better options, low income families living in food deserts rely on fast food or convenience stores, with options limited to processed foods that are high in fat, sugar, and sodium. Their children are more likely to develop obesity and diabetes, which together account for $395 billion in medical costs and lost productivity annually. The population of urban centers is increasing; feeding a world population of 9.1 billion people in 2050 will require an overall increase in food production by 70% between 2007 and 2050. Concurrently, pesticides and fertilizers are threatening conservation efforts and stressing pollinators critical to crop production. Ongoing drought on the West Coast is calling into question the long-term viability of reliable food production from that region using conventional farming approaches. In addition, labor, transportation, and crop loss add signi?cant cost to food production. Indoor farming has been shown to work technically, but its economics are still dif?cult. The world needs a reliable, scalable, sustainable, and economically feasible approach to continuous food production.InnovationGrowing high-quality food economically in a controlled environment near the point of consumption will address many of the aforementioned challenges. For the past decade, Vecna has experimented with indoor, urban farming techniques. During construction, we needed to move an aquaponic system, which required removing the plants, and fully draining and disassembling the system. In doing so, Vecna's robotic logistics solutions team had an innovative idea: to develop a self-contained, pallet-based aquaponics system that could be automatically moved by pallet-handling robots to yield robust on-demand production of healthy food. Automation and hydroponics can be combined to result in indoor farms that take advantage of under-utilized urban structures, housing multiple tiers of pallets planted with a wide variety of

* Information listed above is at the time of submission. *

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