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Circular Economy in Food Production and Food Waste Management

Homer Farms Inc. is a startup that establishes a circular economy in food production and food waste management.

Photo of Zhihao Chen
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Lead Applicant Organization Name

Homer Farms Inc.

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small company (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

Arizona State University; Arizona Center of Algae Technology and Innovation (AZCATI); City of Mesa

Website of Legally Registered Entity

www.homerfarms.com

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 1-3 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Mesa

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United States of America

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Arizona State University, one of the largest universities in the United States, covers a total area of 6.18 Km^2 with population of 116000.

What country is your selected Place located in?

United States of America

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

I went to ASU as a freshman in 2013 and graduated with a master's degree in Environmental and Resource Management in 2018. I am currently a faculty teaching General Chemistry at ASU and also running a startup named Homer Farms Inc. that is located on ASU campus. The startup processes food waste from ASU dining service and provide fresh produces back to ASU dining service. Liquid fertilizer as byproduct is also used on campus for landscaping. ASU is the place in which I learned my knowledge and skills, and ASU also gives me an opportunity to pursue my dream of entrepreneurship. Homer Farms Inc. has developed several public private partnerships with research programs (e.g. Arizona Center of Algae Technology and Innovation) within ASU. Homer Farms Inc. also process food waste collected from ASU dining service provided by Aramark. Therefore, Homer Farms Inc. has a strong relationship with ASU and embeds itself into ASU ecosystem. 

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

ASU is located in Arizona where the first feelings are dry and hot. Agriculture industries in Arizona are well developed but the water resource is limited. Lettuce is one of the major crops in Arizona, but local farmers are facing water shortage for their crops. People here are looking for innovative solutions to keep sustainable agriculture. Due to the high dryness in Arizona, composting is not a very effective way to process organic waste. Innovative solution with less carbon footprint and higher efficiency is needed to convert organic waste into valuable products. Soil quality is another challenge in Arizona as it is in the desert area, and farmers are looking for sustainable organic fertilizer instead of synthetic chemicals to maintain nutrient level in their soil. ASU is ranked is #1 university for innovation and is conducting several sustainable practices including the partnership with Homer Farms Inc. to create a food system requiring less natural resources in the near future. ASU research facilities like AZCATI are helping startups and providing research assistance, and ASU dining service (Aramark) has a very strong desire to become as sustainable as possible by purchasing local supplies and diverting waste from landfill. All these opportunities give Homer Farms Inc. a great environment to grow from a simple idea to an exciting implementable vision. 

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)

7

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?

120000

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Current Challenges (2020): Arizona has great agriculture industries, but agriculture in Arizona uses 70% of the water supply. Local farmers are facing water shortage and have to compete their water rights with other industries. Due to the high dryness in Arizona, it takes 3 to 6 months to complete composting process, and the process requires a large amount of water but also produce a large amount of greenhouse gases. The soil quality in Arizona is another challenge, but the products from composting cannot be absorbed by soils very well due to the dryness. Waste needs to be processed and converted into a different form in order to be better absorbed by the soil in Arizona. Thus, more efficient and sustainable waste management solution is required in Arizona. 

Future Challenges (2050): The population in Arizona is increasing and the economics are developing, which will add more pressure on water supply. Local farmers will be facing more severe water shortage and the current agriculture model is not going to work in 2050. Without innovation, the current agriculture industry will be limited by water resource and be fighting over water rights in 2050. New agriculture models with less environmental impacts must be implemented. People with more awareness of sustainability will also demand food from suppliers with great sustainable practice. More population will generate more organic waste including food waste, and it will be a greater challenge for local waste management facilities due to the climate conditions. Composting will be absolutely not an environmentally friendly solution because of the high operation cost and low efficiency. More restricted environmental regulations will also require solutions with less greenhouse gas emissions. Urbanization will require waste management facilities become more compact and efficient in oder to process more waste with less footprint, odor and noise.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

There are two components in the system that Homer Farms Inc. develops. The first component is a waste digester that can covert organic waste into renewable energy and liquid fertilizer. The digester is fairly compact and can process up to 2000 lbs food waste everyday within 200 sqft. The food waste are converted into a considerable amount of renewable energy and liquid fertilizer, which can be used in local communities (e.g. ASU).  This component can minimize the carbon footprint in waste management and eliminate greenhouse gas emission. The second component is a vertical farm that can utilize the products from the first component. The renewable energy is used to power the farm by controlling environment and providing lights. The liquid fertilizer is used to feed the crops growing in the farm. The farm uses 90% less water compared to traditional farms, but has 100 times more productivity compared to traditional farms. The vertical farm is not limited by climate conditions and can produce all year round. Homer Farms' system can process organic waste from consumers and provide fresh produce back to consumers to establish a circular economy.   

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

Place: Arizona is able to keep its great agriculture industries and does not have to worry about the water shortage problems as the water usage in agriculture can be reduced by 90% due to this innovative circular economy. Other industries can also be prosperous, as they all have enough water resource without fighting over water rights. The soil quality in Arizona will be significantly improved by the liquid fertilizer produced by Homer Farms. All the waste will be processed in Homer Farms' digesters and produce considerable amounts of renewable energy and liquid fertilizer. ASU will become a zero waste university first and with its influence local communities will soon become zero-waste as well. The ultimate goal is to make ASU and local communities self-sustained.

Lives of People: local people will have access to fresh organic produce that does not have pesticide and herbicide. All of the organic waste will be processed by Homer Farms in its digester to produce renewable energy and liquid fertilizer without generating greenhouse gases. Local people will develop great awareness of sustainability and have lifestyles with minimum environmental impacts. Local farmers do not need to worried about water shortage, nutrient runoff, and soil contamination. All of the problems are solved by the circular economy established by Homer Farms Inc, as all resources are utilized in very efficient ways without generating waste. Community resilience will be significantly improved as well. 

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

In 2050, Homer Farms Inc. is able to build a circular economy on ASU campuses, where all organic wastes will be processed onsite and all fresh produces are cultivated on site as well. The long distance transportation of waste and food can be minimized, the carbon footprint in the food system can be reduced, and the community resilience can be improved. Every 200 sqft, Homer Farms Inc. is able to process up to 2000 lbs organic waste per day and produce considerable amount of renewable energy and liquid fertilizer. The capacity of vertical farms can become 100 times more productive than conventional farms, and it uses 95% less water and eliminates the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides. All people in ASU will be served by a sustainable food system, and they will foster an environmentally friendly lifestyle. ASU then will start influence local communities and integrate them into its sustainable system with the ultimate goal of making entire Arizona sustainable and resilient. The water resource will no longer be a limiting factor for the development, and the soil quality will be improved as well. Private sectors, universities, and local governments all work as one unit to build a stronger food system. 

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Website

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Photo of Dr. Kelly Gehlhoff
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I love closed loop system design and find your all natural methods enhance indoor ag. industry very well! I have a similar interest in spreading this concept to the world... I would like to learn more about your system and if you are reproducing these units or still in prototype phase. Please email me at kellyphgs@gmail.com. thanks, Dr. Kelly

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