A circular economic agricultural utility designed as a public-private partnership for the prosperity of people and planet.
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.
One of the oldest cities in the United States, Philadelphia once hosted the signing of the Declaration of Independence, has been featured in countless hit movies, and has often been referred to as the "City of Brotherly Love". This city is rich with dynamic cultural history that is not devoid of mistakes, conflict, and litter; however, this city is also resilient and community focused. Comprised of at least thirty four distinct neighborhoods, this city embraces urban roots and culture.
A melting-pot of cultures, Philadelphia’s food scene ranges vastly from a predominant “Chinatown” through Middle-Eastern, Thai, Italian, Scandinavian, German, and other European influences. Despite this diversity, the “City of Brotherly Love” is most commonly known for it’s sandwiches. From cheese-steaks to hoagies, many Philadelphia area residents often find themselves in a convenience store chain called Wawa, which provides sandwiches that are highly processed and relatively unhealthy.
Image courtesy of the City of Philadelphia's Hunger Advocacy 101 program that aims at reducing food-insecurity within Philadelphia. This image represents a 2014 statistic, but also indicates the commonality of open markets that are seasonally available around the city.
To help combat food-insecurity, the City of Philadelphia's Food Policy Advisory Council provides resources for residents of various income levels, social dynamics, and legal status to identify sources of food throughout the city. This graphic represents their efforts to help simplify the access to food through programs such as food-stamps and food-kitchens.
A synopsis of the Philadelphia Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) food-economy as researched by the Economy League of Philadelphia. This snapshot of the 2019 "Good Eats" report indicates the greater food-economy of the Philadelphia area, excluding the agricultural producers the Seedling's operational radius otherwise addresses. This study tracks the food economy from waste through distribution to retail & hospitality.
Seedling's first SEED installation is modeled within one of the most densely populated sectors of the United States. This unique location produces both high volumes of food-waste, but also is home to extensive agricultural output annually.
Population Density of the Place (provided by ArcGIS), including detailed looks at Philadelphia, New York City, and Baltimore. The outer diameter (150 mile radius) includes over 40 million residents in a mix of rural and urban sectors.
Cited from the DVRPC's Greater Philadelphia Food-System Study, an examination on the sourcing of food within the 100-mile radius of Philadelphia, including a projection to 2035 that indicates food-origins from "other domestic sources", Seedling aims to combat this projection by increasing regional production and consumption within the region, thus reducing greenhouse gas emissions associated with traditional distribution models.
Cited from the DVRPC's Eating Here Philadelphia: Food-System Plan of 2011, a percentage breakdown of at-home food consumption within a 100-mile radius of Philadelphia circa 2001-2007. This overview provides insight into the food consumption behaviors of the population within the "Place".
Citing the DVRPC's Eating Here Philadelphia Food-System Plan 2011, this chart indicates Combined Household Food Insecurity in New Jersey and Pennsylvania (2001–2008) with 2008 reflecting some 880,000 households facing food insecurity. This is evidence that the need to strengthen regional food-security and food-access is abundant within this "Place".
Citing the DVRPC's Eating Here Philadelphia Food-System Plan 2011, this map overlay's Seedling's proposed SEED-PHL 110-mile radius over the Fast Food density as a highlight to the current health issues within the region as it relates to fast food.
Citing the DVRPC's Eating Here Philadelphia Food-System Plan 2011, this map overlay's Seedling's proposed SEED-PHL 110-mile radius over the access to grocery store density as a highlight to the current health issues within the region as it relates to access to healthy food.
Cited from the DVRPC's Greater Philadelphia Food-System Study, an overview of top crops by acreage within a 100-mile radius of Philadelphia circa 2007.
Cited from the DVRPC's Greater Philadelphia Food-System Study, this examination of direct marketing and agritourism activities within a 100-mile radius of Philadelphia highlights the popularity of farmer's markets, CSAs, and farm-stands within the region.
Seedling aims to amplify these behaviors through our zero-emissions, hydrogen fuel cell electric mobile-market & food-truck distribution channels.
Cited from the DVRPC's Greater Philadelphia Food-System Study, an overview of food commodities produced within 100-mile radius of Philadelphia circa 2007.
Cited from the DVRPC's Greater Philadelphia Food-System Study, an overview of organic producers within a 100-mile radius of Philadelphia.
Organic farmers, and those seeking to transition to organic-certification, are Seedling's targeted fertilizer customers. Each SEED installation works with these farmers to formulate fertilizers specific to their soil composition and desired crop species.
Cited from the DVRPC's greater Philadelphia Food-System Study, an overview of agricultural soils within a 100-mile radius of Philadelphia. Noting the red areas as "Agricultural Lost Soil", these areas have faced soil conditions that have been stripped of nutrient composition needed for agricultural production.
Seedling aims to enrich organic farming operations within these soils through precision organic fertilizers that bring soil back to life in conjunction with organic farming practices.
A 2017 view from the USDA NASS on the percentage of farm's operational costs devoted to fertilizer and soil conditioning additives. This map, in conjunction with the DVRPC's Greater Philadelphia Food-System Study indicating lost agricultural soils, provides an overview for the demand of fertilizers within this agricultural sector.
USDA NASS total number of farms per county within the determined "Place". This map provides insight into how many farms are within Seedling's operational region for the SEED-PHL installation. This is an updated map compared to the DVRPC's Greater Philadelphia Food-System Study that cites data circa 2007-2011.
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”.
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?
This simplified process map showcases how Seedling's SEEDs transform organic fractionated municipal solid waste (food-waste) into multi-sector value streams that are leveraged within onsite systems to produce a multitude of assets for regional customers.
Seedling's SEED-270 is a the largest modeled installation, however is not the largest potential that a SEED can reach. This industrial-scale installation can support the daily fuel demands of 25 city buses; or up to 300 commuter cars, or a network of over 20 food-trucks with zero-emission hydrogen fuel for fuel cell electric transportation. Producing thousands of tons of fertilizer annually, while housing a 240,000sq/ft farm, the SEED-270 is an agricultural powerhouse for large cities.
The SEED-150 is Seedling's mid-sized installation. At this 150T/day feedstock intake, Seedling is able to leverage bioplastic fermentation capabilities to produce compostable packaging and agricultural products. This scale of installation also enables a multi-truck distribution fleet for urban food-desert food entrepreneurs. Targeted at municipalities with populations of 350K-650K, the SEED-150 is a flexible option for a collection of smaller cities or a single medium-sized city.
The SEED-50, the smallest of Seedling's scale installations, is designed to intake 50 tons of food-waste feedstock daily. The SEED-50 is targeted at municipal populations of 150k-350k. Featuring a flexible design model based around containerized or brick-and-mortar installations, the SEED-50 is an introductory offering and may be used to showcase further potentials to new markets.
This map showcases available markets for the three sizes of SEED installations offered by Seedling. Cumulatively this map represents annual reductions that exceed 15.5 million tons of carbon dioxide associated with food-waste, energy production, and transportation, all sized to the individual impacts of the identified Seedling installations.
One of Seedling's unique distribution models is a hydrogen fuel cell electric food-truck. Modeled here as "RECESS", this food-truck features all-electric cooking equipment, can cook for 8+ hours within the operational radius of the SEED-installation. Featuring power production of 80kw, this truck also acts as a vehicle-to-grid power source in emergencies.
Leased to community chefs, the food-truck model amplifies food-system resilience and food-access within urban food-deserts.
A simplified diagram indicating a preliminary model for a sensor-driven network that collects chemical composition data throughout the food waste-to-fertilizer process. Indicated within this diagram is regional soil composition mapping of customer farms that enables precision soil-responsive fertilizer formulations, while also providing the USDA with historic soil-health data within the region. Crop-specific formulations researched by each partner university spur academic research & competition.
This infographic from the Association of Vertical Farming showcases some of the benefits to controlled environment farming in comparison to our current agricultural system from the perspective of land use, resources, and health.
Seedling proposes to both help regional geoponic (soil-based) farmers, while also operating an onsite CEA hydroponic farm to provide a baseline source of annual organic produce. Seedling brokerage/purveyourship services deliver local produce direct-to-customer.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.