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Colorado Carneries: Empowering Producers and Consumers through Decentralized Meat Cultivation

In the past, we hunted. Today, we shop. In the future, we will cultivate. Cellular agriculture enables us to home-brew meat, milk and eggs.

Photo of Natalie Rubio
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Tufts University

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Researcher Institution

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

New Harvest

Website of Legally Registered Entity

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

  • 1-3 years

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

Medford, Massachusetts

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?

Boulder, Colorado

What country is your selected Place located in?

United States of America

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

Why did you select this Place? Boulder, Colorado is an oasis; consistently found at the top of lists ranking American cities with the most educated workforce, active inhabitants and sustainable living. National Geographic declared Boulder as America’s happiest city in 2017. The food culture is built around health and sustainability. Trends include kombucha, farm-to-table dining, gluten-free diets, organic produce and foods supplemented with cannabidiols or medicinal mushrooms. Boulder has a precedent of launching products and setting trends as the home of Crocs, Izze and Celestial Seasonings.

Why is this place important to you? I was born, raised and matriculated in Boulder and have always had a bittersweet relationship with the town. I love Colorado because of the scenic landscape, laid-back lifestyle and friendly people. Farmers are connected to the community via weekly farmer’s markets and farm-to-table initiatives. Commuters routinely cruise past pasture of free range cattle on their way in and out of the city. I also see ways in which Boulder could be improved. Due to the high cost of living, college town vibe and geographic location, Boulder lacks diversity as the vast majority of citizens are white, liberal, affluent and well-educated.

How are you connected to it? I visit Boulder often for holidays, to visit family and friends. Every visit I go to Moe’s Bagels, visit Pearl St. and hike in the foothills. I am also starting to build a professional network in Boulder as the alternative protein entrepreneurship typically found in Boston and San Francisco begins to move inland. Bond Pet Foods and Emergy Foods are start-ups bringing next-generation protein production to Colorado.

Western diets tend to inspire global food trends and Boulder could be a forward thinking place with many resources to execute a proof-of-concept to serve as a blueprint for larger global change.

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.

Feel: Boulder is characterized by being a college town with liberal ideology and emphasis on outdoor lifestyle. The proximity of the mountains enables quick access to skiing, hiking, rock climbing and mountain biking. Boulder is also known for legalization of marijuana and medicinal mushrooms, yoga and entrepreneurship. 

Food: Driven by the nature-loving and exercise-fiendish philosophy of the town, diets are shaped by perceived environmental and health impact (read: vegan, paleo, organic, biodynamic, local, gluten-free, farm-to-table, non-GMO, etc.). Consumers in Boulder love their food to be natural. 

Climate & Topography: The city limits are surrounded by undeveloped land due to the Boulder Open Space movement, a tax-payer supported initiative for the city to purchase and protect over 100,000 acres of natural lands surrounding the county. Similarly, all buildings are restricted to heights between 35 and 55 feet to protect the coveted mountain views. The Boulder creek runs through the city, framing the downtown outdoor shopping center and housing tubers and kayakers (annual tube to work day is in mid-July). 

Social Dynamics: Boulder is progressive in terms of politics, environmental sustainability and social justice. Boulderites, composed of mostly students, university employees, and techies, are characterized as extremely friendly, engaging and collaborative. 

Culture: Boulder has a strong Native American influence due to local history of tribe villages before while settlements driven by the gold rush. Aside from the University of Colorado, Boulder is home to Naropa University, which was founded by a Tibetan Buddhist and offers degrees in art therapy and yoga studies. 

Urban/Rural Breakdown: Boulder's population density is 1,524 per sqkm. In 2010, the rural population was estimated at under 14%, a decrease from 50% in the first half of the 1900's. Aside from farmers and ranchers that reside in the plains, there is a subset of Boulderites that live in near-isolation in the mountains. 

Agriculture: There are 25,000 acres of arable land in Boulder county, owned by the local government and leased to farmers for crop production and animal agriculture. Boulder is known for supporting organic and regenerative agriculture and houses over 70 agtech start-up companies. 

Hopes: Boulderites have high hopes for the global natural environment. Environmental engineering pursuits and sustainable technologies are a large focus at the local university. Proximity to nature constantly reminds the community of what is at stake due to climate change. 

Diet & Health: Food culture is largely influenced by both sustainability and health. Menus frequently list item's calorie counts and nutritional values. Consumer demand is for organic, local, gluten-free and unprocessed food.

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


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


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

Current Challenge #1: Consumers are skeptical of genetic modification and cellular agriculture. Whole Foods is chock-full of products displaying the "Non GMO Project Verified" label. It's on yogurt, produce, even bottles of water. Monsanto, through fault of its own, has ignited a powerful movement against an ambiguous category of foods. Whether engineered for profit, taste, nutrition or safety; genetically modified crops, animals and water (just kidding) are ostracized by large portions of the community. Over 90% of adults from Western nations report at least "some level of opposition" to genetically modified foods. Interestingly, "the people who hold the most extreme views opposing genetically modified (GM) foods think they know most about GM food science, but actually know the least" according to research from Boulder's own university.

Current Challenge #2: Tasty, healthful food is too expensive for middle-class families. Boulderites are in consensus that the best food is natural, organic and local. Bonus points are awarded for denotation of high animal welfare standards and fair trade. But these perks come with a premium. The cost of living for a family of four is estimated at $100K, but the median income is only $72K. Not everyone can afford high quality food.

Current Challenge #3: People are disconnected from the production of meat and other animal products. Colorado people love their pets, free-range eggs and grass-fed beef. Unfortunately, the majority of farm animals are raised in deplorable conditions which is not in line with consumer values.

Future Challenge #1: Climate change is impacting traditional agriculture. The Western states have experienced greater temperature rises due to climate change than the rest of the country; coastal waters can diminish temperature swings. Colorado The majority of Western water is from snowpack which is projected to decrease with increases in temperature. Crops will also demand more water in hotter and drier climates. 

Future Challenge #2: Tasty, healthful food is too expensive for the majority of families. In the future, technology is likely to increase bifurcation of the population's share of national income. Due to the projected rising cost of living in Boulder and agricultural struggles in the face of climate change, good food will become less accessible to the majority of households. 

Future Challenge #3: Genetic biodiversity of animal and plant species is dwindling. The rate of extinction is increasing with devastating effects for numerable plant, insect and animal species. Because we only eat a handful of animal and plant species, there is negligible incentive to stop widespread habitat destruction. Furthermore, conventional animal agriculture is a key contributor to that habitat destruction, directly through land conversion and indirectly through climate change.

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

Current Challenge #1: Consumers are skeptical of genetic modification and cellular agriculture. In our vision, cellular agriculture will be taught at all levels in school and students will gain hands-on experience with techniques while having their questions and concerns addressed early-on. In addition, we aim to overcome skepticism by coupling cultured meat production with the farmer's market culture; consumers will be able to see which animals the starter cultures came from and pick from a variety of culture media.

Current Challenge #3: People are disconnected from the production of meat and other animal products. While most of us currently only interact with farm animals in the grocery store, the creation of donor farms will allow consumers to come face-to-face with the animals supplying their dinner. Because we are empowering consumers to make their own meat, they will become intimately aware of the ethics and sustainability of the practice. 

Future Challenge #1: Climate change is impacting traditional agriculture. Cultured meat is projected to produce a mere fraction of the land, water and greenhouse gas emission footprint associated with conventional agriculture. With arable land and resources freed from animal and feed crop production, there will be room for more sustainable agriculture initiatives as well.

Current + Future Challenge #2: Tasty, healthful food is further too expensive for the majority of families. Similar to community garden harvest compared to Whole Food produce, decentralized meat production will generate more affordable food in exchange for consumer engagement in the cultivation process. 

Future Challenge #3: Genetic biodiversity of animal and plant species is dwindling. We only eat cows, pigs and chickens because they were easy to domesticate. When producing food at the cellular level, we will be able to grow muscle and fat tissue from any available species. The trend of "craft meat" will encourage increasing the genetic diversity of donor animals to contribute to new flavor and nutrition profiles similar to the "slow food" movement and suppliers like Heritage Farms. Because a handful of animals can supply the town with meat, farmers can focus more effort on individual animals needs and eliminate pressure on intensifying production.

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.

In 2050, the citizens of Boulder are intimately connected with food production. The majority of the population no longer eats meat or dairy produced from factory farmed animals. Affordable food is produced from large carneries, while higher-end products can be obtained from sustainable farms or micro-carneries. The same types of people that brew beer in their parents’ basement, trade scobies with their neighbors, make home-made bread and cheese and participate in community gardening now have additional hobbies in their repertoire: cultivating small-scale meat, milk and eggs. There’s a bit of capital investment to purchase the carnery set-up (i.e., bioreactor) but there are also many kits and protocols online for DIY systems. The majority of consumers, however, do not grow their own animal products and instead either purchase free-range, organic conventional beef or buy local cultured meat grown at community-scale carneries. Like breweries, there are a range of operation sizes. Craft micro-carneries focus on small batch, high quality meats and other products for niche markets (i.e., emu steak, foie gras cultured with mushroom-based media). Larger carneries focus on a small range of more familiar products produced at large volumes to serve a consensus of palettes. More people are training as farmers due to the growing industry of donor farms to maintain animals to provide starter cultures. Farms now emphasize greater diversity of species and genetics rather than increased production efficiency. Cells, scaffolds and media for meat as well as engineered strains for milk and egg protein production are sold at local stores and exhibited at farmer’s markets. New companies continually pop-up offering specialized modules to upgrade carnery systems such as bio-printers, sensors, nutrient analyzers and water purification and recycling streams. Overall, the public is more educated about food biotechnology and inspired to contribute to this new industry.

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

Environment: Multiple facets of the local and wider environment are benefiting from Boulder’s transition from traditional animal agriculture to decentralized meat cultivation (i.e., cultured meat production). Cultured meat is estimated to have significantly lower environmental footprints for land use, water use, greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption. Arable land is still required to support donor farms and grow plants that supply the media formulation industry (i.e., corn, potatoes, wheat for glucose). However, cells require less resource inputs than whole animals due to higher conversion efficiencies and elimination of waste streams (i.e., bones, offal) so the overall land requirement is much lower. Land that was previously utilized for traditional agriculture is slowly returning to its natural, undeveloped condition and serving as habitats for wildlife. Cultured meat also requires less water. The highest water requirement is related to media formulation and some carneries include water recycle streams to further reduce impact. The reduction of farms also leads to a reduction in groundwater pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from methane-producing animals. Energy consumption increases with the size of bioreactors, but many groups are working to supply systems of renewable energy. 

Diets: Compared to 2020, 2050 Boulderites eat less, higher quality meat. With the implementation of carney-integrated sensors, consumers see real-time data related to both the environmental and health impact of the meat they or local facilities are growing. Each meat harvest is accompanied with a report detailing the resources used for and nutrients contained within the batch. Phone applications allow consumers to scan packaging and log their nutrient intake to inform diet balance. Diets have also improved due to the discovery of new meat species with naturally enhanced nutrient profiles. Instead of only eating meat derived from cows, pigs and chickens, carneries have screened and characterized meat from thousands of different species. New nutrient information is publicly available and consumers tune their demands to personal needs, such as an increased distribution of healthy fats. Consumers can also tune the texture of their food by changing the time in culture, degree tissue maturation which is influenced by the growth media and scaffold composition. 

Economics: In 2050, people transition towards spending less money on large, national meat brands that are supplied by either traditional animal agriculture or larger carnery facilities with higher environmental footprints due to facility size and transportation and instead spend more money on local products or towards supplies for their own meat production. As one of the first cities to implement home and community-scale carneries, Boulder is a hotspot for cellular agriculture start-up companies to serve each side of the industry. New businesses include donor farms, starter culture characterization, bioreactor design, medium formulation, scaffold material production, specialized restaurants, safety inspections, quality control and big data analysis, to name a few. The local government awards grants each year to new companies that exhibit new breakthroughs for further advances in sustainability. Boulder also becomes a leading exporter of high quality craft cultured meats, inspired by the microbrewery culture initiated in earlier decades. 

Culture: By 2050, decentralized meat cultivation technology has increased the intensity and prevalence of the previously existing cultural trends of small-batch food production. There is an additional inclination for product diversity. The transition from animals to cells has increased the range of culinary possibilities in all aspects: species of donor animals bred, tissue types eaten, meat shapes, sizes, colors, tastes and textures, nutritional value, etc. There is a sense of pride around spending time, resources and effort to create original and interesting foods. The definition of meat becomes more ambiguous as consumers gradually become willing to try new products that don’t look, smell or taste like the conventional meats of the past. Respect for animals and farmers increases. New generation farmers are trained to raise not just cows, pigs and chickens but sea lions, porcupines and giant water beetles and raise them to the highest welfare standard, as consumers relate the happiness of the animals to the quality of their meat.

Technology: At the center of this new industry are technologies based on decades of research in cell biology, tissue engineering and meat science. There are four main components to the cultivation process: (1) cells, (2) media, (3) scaffolds and (4) bioreactors. There is a new talent pool of cell isolation specialists that perform biopsies, isolations, purifications and characterizations. Each cell line is cataloged and labeled with metrics like doubling time, differentiation efficiency and nutrient content. The basic medium formulations are publicly available and hobbyists participate on online formulations, cataloging which recipes work and how they affect organoleptic properties. Each cultivator (i.e., bioreactor) collected data related to cell growth, resource consumption, environmental footprint, nutrition content and flavor profiles. The compiled data set is used by other companies to create models which output DIY recipes to achieve certain properties. 

Policy: In 2050, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have worked out most of the kinks concerning how to regulate cultured meat production. The FDA oversees bioprocesses until the point of tissue harvest and the USDA monitors packaging, quality control and labeling requirements. There is ongoing discussion for refining labeling laws. All meat and animal products are designated by production method (i.e., animal, plant or cell-based) and are giving grades based on environmental impact. Foods that have been linked to detrimental health effects are required to include warning labels. New programs associated with the Open Space movement are implemented to restore agricultural lands to wildlife habitats.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Email
  • Tufts University Public Relations


Join the conversation:

Photo of Jeremiah Johnston

Hi Natalie -- I just wanted to leave a comment or two to help out. We can talk more in another channel, if you'd like.

But the biggest content question is about Boulder's regulatory things. You mentioned two by description: the Boulder Open Space movement and the building restriction guidelines. Would anything with these have to change by 2050, in order to allow construction of the facilities, or do you think cell ag would fit within current infrastructure of 2020 Boulder?

Photo of Natalie Rubio

Hi Jeremiah! :) Our vision is for the facilities to be small-scale and decentralized; as opposed to a handful of large companies managing production and distribution. Carneries could be "bench-top" or mid-sized so they could pop up as easily as a craft brewery! Based on this, the Open Space policies and building restrictions would not need to change.

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