Controlled Environment Agriculture - Farming and Food Access for Healthy Diets

Research output: NRELPresentation


Fruits and vegetables are critical for a healthy diet and USDA guidelines recommend increasing fruit and vegetable consumption for almost all Americans. However, most food system lifecycle assessments do not capture the importance of these food groups in the food system. Moreover, long supply chains and limited access to fresh produce are particularly prevalent in disadvantaged neighborhoods. Many of these communities are food deserts or food swamps characterized by a lack of full-scale groceries, and a prevalence of convenience stores and fast-food restaurants. Stocking of fresh produce is difficult and often unprofitable for small stores. Convenience stores are usually space-limited, unable to achieve economies-of-scale in purchasing and have difficulty managing the short shelf-life of fresh produce. Controlled-Environment (CE) farming, including greenhouses and fully indoor vertical farms, have the potential to address persistent food access issues for disadvantaged communities. CE farming offers several potential advantages for food desert and food swamp neighborhoods, including shorter or non-existent transport distances and fewer middlemen, which could reduce costs. CE farming can be integrated into existing buildings at virtually any scale, providing local jobs and revitalization of community hubs such as shopping malls, or larger-scale farms located in close-in warehouse or industrial areas. Rainwater harvesting and recovery of nutrients from wastewater could further improve food system resilience and circularity. Geospatial modeling of CE farming in case study cities of various sizes and densities will help to quantify the benefits of CE farming. Geospatial modeling can help to answer questions such as whether sufficient collection area is available for rainwater harvesting for a CE farm, and what size of farm would be required to serve the community living within walking distance of the farm. This paper reports on progress in geospatial modeling of CE farming integration into several case study cities.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages18
StatePublished - 2022

Publication series

NamePresented at the 2022 International Symposium on Sustainable Systems and Technology (ISSST), 21-23 June 2022, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/PR-6A20-83178


  • controlled environment agriculture
  • food energy water nexus
  • vertical farm


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