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Seedling: A Circular Economic Agricultural Utility.

A circular economic agricultural utility designed as a public-private partnership for the prosperity of people and planet.

Photo of Travis Andren
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Lead Applicant Organization Name

Seedling LLC

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.

Pennsylvania State University - Preliminary Academic Partner | Montgomery County Pennsylvania Economic Development Office - Regional Funding Partner | DVO Digesters - Anaerobic Digestion | FuelCell Energy - Stationary Energy Systems | IntellectSoft - Blockchain Development | Full Cycle Bioplastics - PHA Bioplastics | Ballard Power Systems - Mobile Fuel Cells | Cruising Kitchens - Food-Truck Upfitter | Lightning Systems - Food-Truck Manufacturer | Agritecture - Vertical Farming Consultancy | Organix - OFMSW Collection Provider | Air Products - Hydrogen Fueling Management | Parkwood Farm - Agricultural Industry Consultant & Farm

Website of Legally Registered Entity

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

  • 3-10 years

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


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?

"Philadelphia" and a functional operational radius around the city of 150 miles, cited at 110 miles for OpenIdeo. [Cities of 150K+ pop.]

What country is your selected Place located in?

United States of America

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

Seedling was founded in Philadelphia in 2016 as a continuation of graduate research in circular economic studies. Influenced by the rapid growth in controlled environment agriculture (CEA) of vertical farming and indoor greenhouses of the region (Aerofarms, Bright Farms, etc.), Seedling offers a solution to some of the leading challenges (energy & nutrients) within the CEA industry. In 2016, Philadelphia's city council stated that Philadelphia would become the "Vertical Farming Capital of the World", with this level of public support, and a leading agriculture state university, Seedling had found fertile soil. Designed to reflect the goals of Philadelphia's Greenworks sustinability department, and to leverage the dynamics of urban Philadelphia/Camden that is surrounded by rural agricultural zones. Seedling's operational radius amplifies the production of the rural agricultural sector, while utilizing waste resources from the urban sector. Providing a unique source of locally grown organic produce for one of America's greatest culinary cities. Seedling installations (SEEDs) are designed as public-private partnerships that converge university, municipal government & waste management, power utilities, regional transit authorities, private industry, and nonprofit partners. Designed as a new form of "Agricultural Utility" for Philadelphia, a classroom for Penn-State University, a microgrid energy & hydrogen fuel provider for the power utility (PECO) and City, a local source for organic-Ag products (precision fertilizers), and hydroponic farm to enhance local food-security. Designed to operate carbon-negative, SEED-PHL transforms regional food-waste bound for landfill into local value streams, capturing carbon in biomass, and distributing food by zero-emissions hydrogen fuel cell electric food-trucks/mobile-markets.

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.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania resides on the border of New Jersey & Delaware. This region is selected for a multitude of reasons starting with population density. Although Philadelphia itself has a population of 1.5 million, the important figure is the population within the operational radius of 40.2 million. This radius encompasses the metropolitan areas of New York City, Baltimore, and Washington DC, while also being surrounded by some of the most dense agricultural zones within the Eastern seaboard of the United States. In short, there are few places as densely populated within America that also produce as much agriculture as this area.

A seasonal climate in this region limits agricultural growth to traditional spring, summer and early fall seasons. This seasonality, paired with metropolitan densities, has spurred some of the leading controlled environment agriculture (CEA) companies in recent years. These CEA farmers continue to innovate in the science of agriculture while remaining trapped in linear input/output systems relating to nutrients and energy associated with indoor hydroponic farming. These CEA farmers and regional geoponic (soil) farmers have historically collided, with geoponics stating that CEA produce was "plastic food", while CEA farmers grow flavorful and nutritious crops.

Home to a diverse cross-section of immigrant descendants, this region is hard working and proud. Host to the largest continuous outdoor market in the country, Philadelphia’s culinary history has grown vastly beyond its reputable cheesesteak sandwiches, however the diets of the region are still trapped by American-averages.

Within a 100 mile food-shed, 2 in 3 people are overweight, 1 in 10 households face food-insecurity, and each resident produces more than 200lbs of food-waste annually. Regionally more than 14 million tons of food freight are moved annually, representing food purchases over $16B, with a projected increase of 75% by 2035. Meanwhile the 58% of regional farms that reported net losses in 2007 are expectedly suffering more with 2019 tariffs.

Philadelphians are as resourceful as their ancestors, with 226 community gardens in the city alone. Identified as a top ranking food-system challenge to residents here of “knowing where their food comes from and how it is grown” (DVRPC 2009), the connection between rural and urban sectors needs a bridge.

 Seedling proposes to connect regional farmers and consumers, as an “Agricultural Utility”.

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 (2020) USDA figures identifying annual food-waste from retail and consumers at an estimated 133 billion pounds, this doesn't account for the production losses from globalized food production. Amplified out to global figures, food-waste represents 1.6 billion tons of food worth about $1.2 trillion lost, going to waste—one-third of the total amount of food produced globally (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Global Food Losses and Food Waste, 2011; 2015 findings, in 2015 dollars). From a greenhouse gas emissions perspective, agriculture attributes 9 percent of annual emissions, represented primarily through nitrous-oxide from fertilizer and methane production from livestock. A culture of globalization and non-seasonal diets has resulted in agricultural supply chains that over-fertilize eutrophic soils to amplify yield rates, producing crops that are harvested too early, packaging & storing produce in nitrogen to reduce spoilage, and then shipping around the world so that consumers can enjoy out-of-season produce that is non-native. This globalized-food system behavior is amplified by the largest agricultural companies that outsource farming to a globalized market, this practice is referred to as "exported drought" because of its commercialized effects on soil and water-tables in foreign lands. Agri-chemicals have been associated with problems ranging from colony-collapse disorder in pollinators, to endocrine disruptors and gut-biome reductions. Referred to as UREC, unavoidable residual environmental contaminants on produce has limited the adoption of municipal-scale production of organic-fertilizer. Municipalities are challenged with a constant, growing stream of organic municipal solid waste (OMSW), combined with distribution and transportation systems (transportation accounting for 29 percent of US greenhouse gas emissions); this global-to-local food system reflects problems through every step of the supply chain. Current land-dense controlled environment agriculture (CEA) solutions pose energy demand problems on municipal grids that currently also pursue electric-vehicle charging, with populations that exceed historic electric grid designs. Municipal waste associated with food isn't only OMSW, consumer food packaging's plastic content amplifies food-system waste through non-biodegradable solutions that continue to accumulate within the environment. Similar to agri-chemicals, many plastics are also leaching toxins into the environment and associated species, including humans. If unresolved by 2050, these issues pose an irreversible effect that will be amplified by global population estimates that exceed 9 billion. Shifting systems toward localized circular economic models that close the waste-to-food loop, complete with packaging and distribution, to amplify regional organic-agriculture is critical to reducing current 2020 food system problems.

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

By transforming biological waste-streams into value chains in a network of public-private partnerships, Seedling unites a network of academic universities with regional municipal governments in a focused effort to transition rural farms to organic-certification through soil-responsive & crop-specific fertilizer subscription packages that are tailored specifically to each farm. Additional brokerage services that connect the rural farms with urban consumers through a distribution network of zero-emissions all-electric food-trucks & mobile-markets. Seedling enables increased value to farmers during the organic-transition (a process that typically increases operational costs by 30 percent or more) by designing fertilizer formulations specific to their soil composition and crop selections, while also increasing market value of their "transitional crops" through direct-to-customer sales channels. Because the organic feedstock for the fertilizer is derived from a waste-stream, the overall cost of the organic fertilizers may be reduced, further easing the cost for farmers to transition toward Organic. Seedling takes full responsibility for the supply chain from production to consumption, starting with decarbonizing food-waste collection intake from the urban sector by contractually selling hydrogen fuel to city waste collection services that may then transition to zero-emissions garbage trucks; as well as through onsite power generation using high-temperature fuel cells that process biogas from the anaerobic digestion of the food-waste, combined with fermentation of food-waste for bioplastic & (anaerobic digested) pressed fiber packaging. Using onsite produced hydroponic-specific fertilizers & grow mediums along with electricity, captured carbon dioxide, reclaimed heat, and deionized water from the the energy system, the SEED supports an onsite CEA hydroponic farm that supplies annual production of vegetables and leafy greens, that sold along with regional farmers crops in a network of food-distribution businesses to promote urban economic growth through entrepreneurship within disenfranchised communities. By closing the waste-to-value loop, while also centralizing operations to support regional food-economies, Seedling represents a systematic shift from a global decentralized food-system, toward a localized organic-driven bio-economy that promotes organic-certification and associated nutrient recovery within regional soils through organic farming practices. Operationally, Seedling proposes an improved model, however it is the resounding effect of carbon sequestration into biomass systems, captured within this circular model, that is truly Seedling's greatest value. By transitioning food-system, packaging products, transportation networks, and power production toward bio-based solutions, Seedling showcases the power of community integrated food-systems within 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.

In creating catalyst installations supported by municipal governments and academic institutions, Seedling inspires a new approach to industrial agriculture systems that maximize on efficiency and hold environmental accountability as the benchmark for successful operations. By transitioning farms away from toxic chemical inclusion, resonating improved food-health and food-access through focused distribution into densely populated urban sectors with a network of entrepreneurial mobile businesses that provide both improved food-access and electric grid support, Seedling transcends the perceived barriers between industries, to provide improved socioeconomic outcomes and environmental performance of both urban and rural sectors within the Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York, and Washington DC metro areas. Transitioning regional diets from a globalized supply chain to a localized economy requires foundational partnerships within the food-system supply chain. By designing each installation as a public-private partnerships with regional stakeholders, Seedling roots deep into rural and urban agricultural sectors, delivering locally grown food through a network of locally-owned businesses. Educating and training the next generation of urban and rural farmers, Seedling transforms regional talent into resilient work forces that bring food production back to the local community. Building a network of installations (SEEDs), the effects of Seedling's efforts are shared as a decentralized value chain for regional communities that is amplified by a global goal of a transition toward a localized biological-based economy that captures carbon and reduces greenhouse gas emissions to restore planetary health and reduce global temperatures. This execution of "think globally, act locally" demonstrates the ability for a regional place, like Philadelphia, to play an integrated role within a solution to a global crisis.

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

As citizens of a highly advance civilization, our abilities to manipulate technology have provided immense potentials across multiple industries, however organizational tendencies and a drive toward capitalistic goals of monetary profit have often reduced cost models toward linear input/output systems that silo industries within their direct supply chains. Extensive research suggests that by breaking the boundaries between industrial systems and capturing interconnected waste-streams, transforming them into value-streams, provides the potential for a circular economy, that can unlock trillions of dollars in otherwise inefficient linear losses.

Public-Private Partnerships:

Seedling acts as a catalyst in this transformation toward circular economics by leveraging the biochemical power of organic waste, back into regional food-systems, through a network of public-private partnership installations (SEEDs). A SEED-partnership with a regional university provides a functional classroom to advance research into regional agricultural output, while also training the next generation of urban & rural farmers. SEED-PHL has identified Pennsylvania State University as a selected university partner based upon their longstanding history of agricultural and bioengineering pedigree.

Operating on the border of the City of Philadelphia, SEED-PHL seeks a municipal partnership with the Philadelphia Office of Fleet Management (PHL-OFM) as a contractual recipient of hydrogen produced onsite for use in zero-emissions fuel cell electric garbage trucks and fleet vehicles. Further partnership with the Philadelphia Greenworks (sustainability department) allows for intentional focus of fertilizers for urban farms as well as sustainability reporting of the SEED and public education on chemical inclusion within food-waste streams. Partnership with the City of Philadelphia in conjunction with regional energy utility PECO helps to ensure that SEED energy production and electric fleet energy production are available in a crisis. Filed as an independent power provider with PECO allows for the SEED to leverage the electrical demands of the regional grid as a buffer for always-on fuel cell energy systems.

Partnering with regional nonprofit partners within food-system operations, like Philabundance, provides a market demand buffer for regional farmers that begin their transition toward organic-certification through the SEED's fertilizer subscription program. Nonprofit-ran food-trucks/mobile-markets provide a brokerage channel for the regional fertilizer-subscription farmers to distribute their produce through urban entrepreneurial chefs in direct-to-customer models that target urban food-deserts.

Private industry partners within the region including food-processors with reliable food-waste streams, grocers, and restaurants help to leverage cooperative relationships between farmers and consumers facilitated through the SEED. Including regional packaging manufacturers enables SEED-produced bioplastic & pressed fiberboard packaging to be manufactured locally, further enabling a zero-waste supply chain of food and packaging.

Food-Waste Feedstocks

Organic fractionated municipal solid waste (OFMSW, aka food-waste) is inherently distributed by population density as a result of individual consumer activities amplified by the food-system infrastructure that provides food to the people. This biochemical feedstock has historically been discarded alongside all other types of inorganic waste, causing widespread and long-lasting emissions of greenhouse gases including methane and carbon dioxide. Recent efforts to divert this waste stream has left urban municipalities scrambling for solutions, often resulting in the commoditization of biogas and agricultural nutrients through simplified yet proven industry technologies.

Upon initial launch of a SEED, supplier relationships with national food-waste collection suppliers is leveraged as a reliable feedstock supply. Once regional OFMSW collection and consolidation efforts are refined, the supplier relationships transitions toward directly supporting waste produced locally. Seedling focuses first on pre-consumer OFMSW due to reductions in foreign contaminants, with the goal of aiding regional waste-processing efforts to transition to both pre & post-consumer OFMSW.

In contrast to bulk industrial anaerobic digestion companies, Seedling focuses on the maximization of potential from OFMSW biochemical feedstocks through fermentation and anaerobic digestion processes that include sensor-driven & blockchained data collection that analyzes UREC chemical inclusion within the OFMSW, isolating and separating out USDA-NOP UREC identified in Title 7: 205.601, 205.602, 205.603, 205.604, & 205.605b within the produced fertilizers, in addition to macro-nutrient composition and biogas production data.

SEED Facility

Once the OFMSW enters a SEED installation, it undergoes a series of processes including grinding to size/consistency, a split fermentation process that yields PHA bioplastic, and ferments onsite grown duckweed to balance nitrogen-carbon levels prior to anaerobic digestion. After split-fermentation the slurries are combined into a plug-flow anaerobic digestion (AD) process that too is sensor-enabled. This AD process produces both biogas as well as a nutrient concentrated slurry. The biogas is then refined and processed through a high temperature fuel cell system that produces high-efficiency electricity, heat, water, food-grade carbon dioxide, and hydrogen fuel. 

The nutrient dense slurry is removed from the AD process and precisely formulated by the university partner in response to the tested soil conditions and identified crop selection of the subscription farms, and the onsite hydroponic farm. The ability to design soil-responsive/crop-specific precision fertilizers in conjunction with the university partner within the SEED's operational radius provides a regional classroom that advances agricultural research and fertilizer optimization while also training the next generation or urban and rural farmers. When projected out to a national or global network of academic-partnered installations, competitive advancement of research can be rewarded through academic scholarships funded by the leasing of intellectual property of digitized crop-specific fertilizer formulations to/from other SEED locations. Academic exchange programs between SEEDs intends to align with the development of a Periodic Table of Food (PTFC) between university partners on a global scale.

Assets produced by the fuel cell energy system, paired with crop specific fertilizer and grow-mediums, are utilized for onsite operation of a CEA hydroponic farm. Leveraging both greenhouse and vertical farming practices, staff/students are trained in ranging methodologies to grow an annual supply of produce for regional customers, including the entrepreneurs/chefs that run the fuel cell electric mobile-markets/food-trucks. By blending brokerage offerings of both regionally farmed and onsite grown produce, consumers enjoy both seasonal local offerings as well as global variations grown in a CEA environment.

Mobile Distribution

A SEED-hosted fleet of fuel cell electric food-trucks and mobile markets enables community entrepreneurs to lease food-trucks at a lower economic entry than existing purchased solutions, while also adapting to seasonal demands through flexible lease programs. By supporting community entrepreneur chefs, regional cultural cuisine offerings can adapt to each community, further increasing market acceptance. Food-trucks/mobile-markets enable the mobility of food-access, the leading cause of food-desertification within low-income communities. These all-electric food-trucks operate silently, indoors & outdoors, and closer to events; overcoming challenges within the food-truck industry that are commonly attributed to portable-generator and diesel engine emissions & noise. Each truck also features vehicle-to-grid power production & transfer capabilities that enables a distributed network of power backup solutions for municipal infrastructure resilience during crisis events. As autonomous vehicle technologies advance and change distribution models, the SEED may also provide mobile market solutions that tailor to customer demands and further reduce emissions associated with supply chains of regional grocery-partners.

Seedling enables improve socioeconomic outcomes while operating carbon-negative installations that provide urban resilience and promote rural transitions toward healthier, more environmentally sustainable agricultural practices. Leveraging the power of advanced data networks provides community and governmental transparency of chemical inclusion within food-waste streams, while providing a digitized landscape of soil composition data of regional farms, that is implemented into precision fertilizer formulations to respond to the unique conditions of regional soils based on desired crop output. Seedling helps evolve municipal waste management and transportation policies toward decarbonized solutions that promote carbon sequestration into a bio-based circular economy. Transforming food-waste, into regional educational advancements, agricultural growth, clean transportation transitions, entrepreneurial opportunities, and municipal resilience; Seedling proposes a new type of utility... 

A Circular Economic Agricultural Utility.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Prize partners
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Attachments (14)


Seedling's detailed 2019 Overview that provides a more detailed look into SEED installations, economics, production, and foundational research.


An introductory look at the principal systems that comprise Seedling's SEED-PHL proposed installation. This initial look at partnership roles with stakeholders within the Philadelphia region highlights the roles and engagement that each stakeholder maintains within the public-private partnership.


Seedling's first academic partnership, and proposed first installation with Penn State University. Food System Vision Prize awards would go directly toward a partnership installation that targets the described goals cited within this document. This endeavor targets funding in conjunction with an economic development bond from Montgomery County, PA.

Circular Aquaponics for Urban Agriculture.pdf

This peer-reviewed research thesis accompanies the video attachment in the beginning section titled "Circular Aquaponics for Urban Agriculture". Providing foundational research toward Seedling's development, this study excludes blockchain, duckweed, and microgrid energy distribution networks within the current proposed model. This document's citations precede, and serve as academic reference for claims not directly cited within the Seedling_Overview_2019.


A collection of USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) regional maps of 2017 agricultural output from the selected "Place", shown in two radii, 1) 110 mile radius determined within the guidelines of the Food System Vision Prize; 2) 150 mile radius designed as a standard operational radius of Seedling installations. Research into the agricultural market of the selected "Place" including fertilizer as a cost percentage of operations.


Leveraging methodologies from the Food System Vision Prize Tool Kit, and the FSVP Futurecasting Webinar, this interpretation of the "Futures Wheel" addresses many of the key aspects within Seedling's converged systems. Addressing some of the common concerns and benefits through multi-orders of consequences.


Leveraging methodologies from the Food System Vision Prize Tool Kit, and the FSVP Futurecasting Webinar, this foreshadowed mock-newspaper identifies Seedling's goal of 100 installations by 2050, connecting 100 university partners within a globalized network of shared agricultural data within circular economic agricultural utility installations.


Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission's 2010 100-Mile food-system evaluation. Divided into four primary sections; 1) Agricultural Resources, 2) Food Distribution, 3) The Food Economy, 4) Food System Stakeholder Analysis. This research study identifies the central majority of Seedling's operational radius.


"Eat Local Montco": Montgomery County's Local Food Production Strategy. A specific research study on the agricultural status and opportunities for Montgomery County, PA from March, 2018. Clearly identifies regional farming statistics, challenges, and market opportunities within agricultural food systems within the neighboring rural county to Philadelphia.


City of Philadelphia's Sustainability Department (Greenworks) 2019 Philadelphia Sustainability Plan identifying eight long-term visions: 1) Accessible food & drinking water, 2) Healthy outdoor & indoor air, 3) Clean & efficient energy, 4) Climate prepared & carbon neutral communities, 5) Quality natural resources, 6) Accessible, affordable & safe transportation, 7) Zero waste, 8) Engaged students, stewards & workers. All categories which are cornerstone to Seedling's design.


Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission's 2011 "Eating Here" Philadelphia Food System Plan. Concepts toward a more sustainable food-system within a 100-mile radius of Philadelphia, ranked by six categorical attributes: 1) Access to affordable farmland, 2) Natural resource protection through markets, 3) Agricultural enterprise development, 4) Healthy food awareness & access, 5) School system solutions, 6) Regional convening & increased collaboration.


This assessment builds on definitions in the 2011 report, "Eating Here: Greater Philadelphia's Food Systems Plan," from the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC). Drawing from North American Industry Classification Systems (NAICS), the food economy comprises activity within six distinct industry sectors: food production, food processing, food distribution, food retail, food hospitality, and food waste and recovery.


This multi-perspective update on the American food-system provides an industry expert assessment of current consumer dietary trends, problems & solutions, an overview of farming systems, and mechanisms for change.


New to vertical farming? This overview from the Association of Vertical Farming (circa 2015) showcases a model installation that grows both greenhouse and vertically farmed hydroponics.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Dr. Kelly Gehlhoff

As a CEA scholar and sustainability consultant I would like to learn more about your project. Very interesting

Photo of Travis Andren

Hi Kelly,
A good place to start is within the video and file attachments to our submission. Any specific questions on CEA design, technologies, and methodologies will be unique to each of our partnered installations.

Thank you for commenting.

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