The Problem that Drives Controlled Environment Growing?


Hi OpenAg! A group of my friends and I have been working on a controlled environment grow system for a new venture aiming to provide some ingredients to restaurants but we have been challenged a lot on the problem controlled agriculture targets. We hope to have a working prototype soon to bounce some ideas with the MVP threads in this forum. It has been hard for us to convince numerous people that there is a problem which is why I wanted to open the floor for opinion or perhaps factual evidence that is out there.

I am interested to start the discussion about generally which problem drives controlled environment technology. At this time I feel these are some of the main drivers, but I am open to new ideas:

  1. The transportation of goods is causing a lot of emissions into the atmosphere
  2. On top of number one, foods are not as fresh as they could be
  3. There is a lot of wasted foods based on diseased or 'Ugly" fruits (i.e. sunspots)

Please share your thoughts on the matter, and what you think is most prevalent! I feel sometimes the groups of people we have explained this to don’t understand the problem since there are so many factors at play.


Hello, Josh, if you have any questions regarding the MVP just let me know. I’m more than happy to help and can’t wait to see your prototype! Please provide more information about your venture, I’m very interested in learning more.

  • Are you planning to remain open-source?
  • Where are you located?
  • How large is your team?
  • What resources do you have available?
  • What is your long-term goal for your venture (feed the world, save the environment, get rich)?

I agree with your first three:

  1. Food Miles (environmental)
  2. Demand for Fresh/Local
  3. Food Waste/Ugly Food

Here are others that I often hear:

  1. Lack of available arable land
  2. Urbanization & lack of willingness of youth to become traditional farmers
  3. 365 Production regardless of geographical location (Sahara to Siberia)
  4. Immunity to soil/air pollution
  5. Increased quality/safety of food (if grown with right standards in place)
  6. Significant decrease in consumption of water (90%+)
  7. Need for pesticides/herbicides eliminated
  8. Nutrient optimization & decrease in agricultural runoff (serious problem at least in U.S.)
  9. Immunity to natural disaster & severe weather or drought

It’s important to keep in mind that CEA has values outside of growing lettuce in boxes. There are many other ways it can be used for research, that can then be applied back to the open field. Look up the company Conviron who has been around for quite some time.

Check out this talk Caleb gave (notice his audience) at the World Government Summit, perhaps it can also answer some of your questions.

The biggest piece of advice I can give you right now is that CEA is not a brand new industry. It has been around for quite awhile (especially in places like Netherlands or Japan). If you want to learn about the existing industry this is the first in a great series of lectures by Dr. Kubota at the University of Arizona CEAC.

The reason CEA is getting so much more attention now is the affordability of sensor data collection and analysis to develop “recipes” for specific crops/flavor profiles. This recent article in Bloomberg Businessweek about Plenty (who received largest VC investment in agricultural technology ever) gives a great overview of their plans to commercialize on that technology.

OpenAg in low & middle income countries

Has anyone done CEA for open field or outdoor vertical to give good yield sustainability?
Any publish info if it has been done?
In not, what are the potential issues to be aware of or the risks?


Hi I am Giok from Asia
Any knows if CEA for Open Field horizontal( traditional) and vertical farming has been done before. What are the results?. Plse provide links. TQ


Thanks Peter for the very detailed response! And apologies for replying so late as the back to school sickness seems to have plagued my entire faculty. I have been watching some of these businesses you indicated to understand the industry better, and learned more about the history of CEA from space research.

There has also been a little bit of a set back in our project this week. We were part of a New Venture Program in my school, but my team decided for the school project we wanted to pivot after we heard you could develop a business plan around a medical device in clinical trials. We have a professor who developed an innovative more accurate breast cancer handheld device who we will be creating a business plan for. That being said it is going to put my CEA project on the back burner for a few months.

However, hoping to answer your questions to the best I can below:

Are you planning to remain open-source?

  • We are undecided, but for the time we are doing our research into the technology we likely will be.

Where are you located?

  • We are university students in London, ON.

How large is your team?
*We have 4 people currently including backgrounds in electrical, computer, software, and integrated engineering. I am also doing a dual degree for my business HBA.

What resources do you have available?

  • We have the support of a lot of faculty on campus who like the idea since London, ON is rich in agriculture. I have also been able to find connections along the way. I know a faculty member at the University of Guelph (major center for agriculture in Canada) who specializes in CEA. I also have a connection with IntravisionGroup (specialize in CEA lighting),

What is your long-term goal for your venture (feed the world, save the environment, get rich)?

  • We are exploring a focus on targeting restaurant supply chains, or feeding remote areas which cannot get access to some necessities of food thus living off meats. At this time we would like to make this environmentally focused but also be profitable.

I would be happy to answer any questions you might have. Our current prototype is not to use hydroponics, we have used a fish tank from my brother as the base. He has this strange hobby with fish… We are just calibrating some sensors and running the system through Arduino. I hope to share some of the findings during this semester. :slightly_smiling_face: