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The Inner City Ranch

We’re bringing the carbon emissions of livestock production to zero while producing higher quality meat locally at a much lower cost.

Photo of Sunday Lai
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

University of California, Berkeley

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.


Website of Legally Registered Entity

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

  • Under 1 year

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

Berkeley, California

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?

Oakland, California

What country is your selected Place located in?

United States of America

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

The three of us have joined together on this journey from very different places. Subhash, hailing from India, moved to California 6 years ago for his dream job in Silicon Valley. While he met his wife in Southern California, his strong ties to Bay Area made him convince his wife to move up. 

One of the reasons that drew him to California is its weather and now that he considers Bay Area as his new home, he wants to play a part in fighting climate change via sustainable livestock farming. 

Meanwhile, Sunday moved from China to California 10 years ago attending college in Southern California. Since then she has planted her roots in the Bay Area as she lives out her dream attending UC Berkeley, and working in tech. She cares deeply about the future of her new home, and is constantly looking for ways to optimize the way Californians consume food in a more sustainable way.

Being here the longest, Jarrett’s roots stretch back four generations into California’s past. Specifically the San Francisco Bay Area. Growing up here with a family that loves history, He’s had a thorough education about all things Bay - especially in regards to the food. In addition, As an avid traveller, having been to over a dozen countries in the couple years alone, Jarrett has been able to contrast his experiences with food while abroad first hand, and compare them to what he’s known back home in the Bay Area.

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.

For an idea as audacious as our Inner City Ranch to blossom, it needs to be rooted in the proper people, infrastructure and influence. It needs a place where innovators are excited about building better futures, with the efficacy and gumption to actually do so. Additionally, it needs people who care about the environment as much as they do food, and the global prominence to incept our Ranch in urban centers worldwide. Here we will demonstrate why the San Francisco Bay Area—specifically, Oakland—is the best place to seed the Inner City Ranch in order for it to flourish across the nation, and eventually the world.

Since California’s founding, the Bay Area has continuously attracted the world's most talented people, bringing with them their creativity, brilliance—and food. This has ranked the Bay Area on virtually every Top Restaurants list and instilled in the region a deep appreciation of gourmet quality. California is an easy place to uphold this standard due to its Mediterranean climate and diverse land resources. As a result, the Bay Area is not only home to scientists and engineers, but a centuries-long heritage in food production.

While California’s population grows in lockstep with the rest of the world, its carbon output remains relatively flat. California has the most environmentally conscious greenhouse gas regulations in the nation—and since this state buys more cars than any other, the car industry makes changes. Meanwhile, Hollywood movies have proliferated to the rest of the world, establishing California as the gold standard of idyllic American life. The food & wine found here has rivaled and surpassed many of the world’s best. All of these things are related because—from public policy to luxury life—California sets standards that the world eventually follows: which is why when our Inner City Ranch flourishes here, the world won’t be far behind.

In Oakland, a Bay Area locus, modern industries have displaced many non-specialized workers to the streets. The Inner City Ranch is a human-centered design that relieves countless homeless encampments and fills many empty or under-utilized warehouses in the city. These warehouses have built-in infrastructures that allow for large-scale logistics, and they sit in close proximity to millions of residents, elements ideal for our Inner City Ranch to breathe life into these derelict buildings while employing low-skilled workers.

The Bay Area balances the interconnection between people, innovation and influence. While our people are brilliant and demand quality food, not everyone is a tech star, and many need low-skill jobs to fill. California’s state government is the most environmentally focused government in the union, one yearning to reduce our carbon footprint. The Bay Area’s prominence in media renders it fertile ground to blossom ideas to urban centers across the globe. With the world watching and waiting to adopt what comes next—we give you the Inner City Ranch.

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.

It is 2020, and yet there are still hungry kids and families who have limited access to fresh affordable produce causing alarming health issues in Oakland, even with increasing state subsidies and other policy incentives.  Meanwhile, we are seeing excessive waste in food, water and energy within our food system.

Oakland’s population is projected to grow from 7.2 million to over 10 million in 2050. Based on average American meat consumption, we will need 620 million pounds of beef and 700 million pounds of chicken to feed the residents in Oakland alone. This is just not the case with Oakland alone, according to FAO UN, global demand for livestock products will increase by 70% by 2050. Livestock farming causes irreversible environmental impact to our planet. 

According to the California Air Resources Board, the state produced 424 million metric tons of GHG in 2017. It is estimated that livestock industry contributed to 4% of the total emissions. While the livestock emissions as a percentage of total GHG emissions is 9.5% lower than the rest of the world, it is still 2% higher than the national average. This amounts to the state’s population and significant presence of livestock industry. If left unchecked, the GHG emissions are projected to rise while California aims to reduce economy-wide emissions 80% below 1990 levels

Livestock farming is an extensive user of land and associated with soil erosion due to overgrazing. Approximately 63 percent of California’s 101 million acres is considered rangeland. To add, feed crops are grown in one-third of total cropland globally which is the leading driver of deforestation.

Meat and dairy account for 47% of consumptive use of water in California. On an average, one kilogram of beef requires 15,414 liters of water in comparison to 322 liters of water for one kilogram of vegetables. Livestock farming causes extensive water pollution especially with nitrogen and phosphorus from organic matter and nutrients.

While the livestock framing is detrimental environmentally, it proved to be economically important to the US. According to AMI, meat and poultry industry contributed $832.4B annually to the U.S. economy, roughly 5.8 percent of total GDP. As the fifth largest livestock producer in the U.S., California’s employment rate and residents’ lifestyle are deeply affected. In support, the government subsidizes meat industry with 35B annually while a fraction 0.04% of it on fruits and vegetables.

Logistics and food safety are still big challenges. 30% of the produce goes to waste currently due to logistic inefficiency and forecast inaccuracy. Logistics and Storage of meat are major cost factors of meat, this might likely to increase in the future with supply chain becoming more complex.

While these challenges are plentiful, the Inner City Ranch takes aim at them all.

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

We envision the Inner City Ranch, a windowless warehouse, to be located within a 20min drone flight of the customer base of Oakland, California. This facility will house livestock, meat processing, packing, automated shipping to retail centers and act as the sole meat supplier to the surrounding areas. As a windowless facility, it allows for the recapture of methane and biowaste of the livestock, which in turn, can be used to produce energy to power the building. This will effectively eliminate the GHG from the animals.

Being located within a dense urban area, we will work with local, city, and state lawmakers to establish a policy that redirects compose waste from grocery stores and restaurants to our facility, grinding it into feed for the animals and reducing waste headed to landfills. This will eliminate the need for purpose grown animal feed, and dramatically cut water usage needed for the feed, and thus overall livestock production. Additionally, keeping animals indoors and away from the heat will further cut down on animal water consumption. Tangentially – the deforestation that happens due to growing livestock feed will ultimately cease.

Keeping animals indoors will open up millions of acres of land currently under use by livestock. This will create development opportunities as the population continues to spread across the state and protect from groundwater pollution and soil erosion as a result of animal waste seeping into the land. Furthermore, the proximity of the facility from the customer base will help process the meat and ship on demand, leading to a huge reduction in GHG costs in comparison with current transportation and refrigeration needs at multiple layers of supply chain.

In addition, we plan to leverage machine learning to attain improved forecast accuracy of meat consumption which translates to fresher products for consumers, and reduced meat waste. The Inner City Ranch will make use of IOT sensors to measure parameters like temperature, water flow, GHG content etc. This will reduce the equipment cost via predictive maintenance. These sensors can also be used to measure and track the health of all animals. 

Finally, to combat the ever-escalating rise in animal protein consumption, we would require a shift in federal policy towards meat and dairy subsidies. Currently the United States spends $38 Billion each year on subsidies. Given that the meat we would produce would be cheaper, we would shift the savings of these subsidies towards fruits and vegetables, encouraging the population to eat less meat, while simultaneously eliminating the GHG it produces.

To sum it up, we envision to bring quality and locally grown meat produced by sustainable farming and technology.

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.

Balanced between old and new, between tech and tradesmen, we envision Oakland to be one of the most desirable cities to live in the nation in 2050. Because the Inner City Ranches, of which there will be several, washed away the blight of Oakland’s industrial sector and it has made food for the region affordable for those even on the most meager of income. Furthermore, this revolutionary shift in the way we think about locally sourced quality doesn’t leave out those without engineering degrees from the world’s elite institutions. Regional food waste and hunger will be close to zero, and have the overwhelming majority of the city’s food, both from plant factories and the Inner City Ranch, will be produced within the city limits.

This proximity will keep the people well educated about their food choices and give access to affordable fresh organic meat. Oakland will be the pioneer in adopting technologies in food security, food safety, and energy regeneration. Food waste, instead of going to landfill, will be transformed into animal feed, and whatever comes from the community will go back to the community. Greenhouse gas emissions from livestock will be captured and turned to new energies. Water and energy will be used highly efficiently, with more usable green lands around and fresh water available to guard our environment. 

As a result, the air is better and the quality of life is much higher. It will be a highly automated world, yet skilled labors will find their place even via our Inner City Ranches. Residents will feel a high level of food safety and security, and kids will grow up eating balanced diets. By moving Inner City Ranches within Oakland as a closed loop food system, no one will feel left behind as every resident will feel this sense of belonging and interconnectivity to their environment, and to each other. By embracing a green culture as tightly as we do each other, we will ignite a worldwide movement towards global greener food systems.

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

The Urban Ranch is a hermetically sealed building with the appearance of a windowless four-story warehouse sitting on a 200,000sqft footprint placed within the industrial district of Oakland, California. The bottom floor is dedicated to shipping, receiving and processing compost into animal feed. Each of the upper floors each house a different animal, the second floor will house cattle, the third floor will house pigs, and the fourth floor will house chickens. Each of the upper floors housing the animals will in turn be sectioned off into three separate areas: A main section for raising the animals, a section for the animals to be processed onsite, and a temporary storage space for freshly processed animals.

While this represents a relatively small warehouse, within our walls we can house 1,300 cows, 25,000 pigs, and 30,000 chickens at a time. To raise this many animals of this variety outside simultaneously, along with the feed needed to nourish the animals, you would need several thousand acres. But of the benefits of this model, saving physical space is very last on the list.

First and foremost, by keeping the animals indoors, we’re protecting the environment. By keeping the building hermetically sealed, we eliminate odors that would otherwise pollute the air making the area unpleasant for nearby neighbors. The current nascent technologies of recycling methane and solid bio waste into energy should be perfected by the year 2050. This means all waste produced by the animals would be collected and used as fuel to power the building. Coupled with an advanced photovoltaic system on the roof, this will be enough to not only bring the buildings power consumption to net zero, but it will essentially eliminate the carbon emissions associated with livestock production.

To feed the animals, we would require help from local, city, and state lawmakers. California has always been forward thinking when it comes to reducing waste and currently has several individual communities committed to producing Zero Waste. Through our interviews at the EPA we learned that composting is better sending trash to a landfill, but is still waste nonetheless. So our ask of lawmakers is to make this Zero Waste philosophy state law, and prohibit all restaurant & grocery stores from send this compost to a landfill. We’ve interviewed several grocery store managers, and have learned that there are currently massive food waste reduction goals by 2030, so further reducing food waste to zero should be welcomed by everyone.

This would mandate local waste management companies to deliver compost elsewhere - like to their local Inner City Ranch where the compost is ground up, and fed to livestock. This would eliminate the need for purpose grown animal feed, and drop the cost of feed to nothing, saving $780,000 annually. Together, all of these efficiencies would exceed a million dollars a year for the cattle alone, not taking into consideration the other animal production.

Raising cattle indoors also has a positive effect on the quality and availability of meat. Protecting cattle from the elements allows you to raise cattle year round, eliminate losses due to weather and predators, but additionally being sheltered from heat dramatically drops the animals water intake. Also being indoors in a much more relaxed and stable environment, radically improves the growth rates, and the animal’s lack of external stress increases meat quality.

Quality of product, and knowing where your food comes from is a cultural trend in California that has been growing rapidly in recent years, and will become all but mandatory facts required for food purchases in 2050. The Inner City Ranch allows residents to not just point out on a map where their food comes from, but to visit on facility tours. Dry indoor environments mean no flies, and little smell - even indoors. This would allow the neighboring areas to visit facilities, build trust, and ensure accountability of employees, employees made up of local workers.

It’s important to note that while it is true that the Inner City Ranch will require massive leaps in technology, on both the software and infrastructure level, it will still require a human touch to run. The Inner City Ranch will bring together workers of all types to put their stamp on one of the most important infrastructure projects of a generation. Not just requiring Machine Learning specialist and energy engineers, but the Inner City Ranch will also need maintenance workers to keep the machines in order, animal specialist to care for sick animals, and laborers to handle the litany of everyday jobs required for the facility to function. As our interviews city residents have suggested, we know that many people feel displaced by the encroachment of new technology. So it’s important that our Inner City Ranch be inclusive of ALL the cities inhabitants from process to product. 

Once the animals are processed into product by a combination of machine and human workers, the product is placed in storage by automatic equipment. An onsite fulfillment center would be available to customers to pick up orders in person. Amazon is currently perfecting the fully automated retail experience, and while we anticipate having many workers within the facility, there will be none in the onsite retail storefront.

Furthermore, our machine learning algorithms will be able to anticipate consumer demand, ensuring that only the correct number of animals are processed at any one time, limiting refrigeration cost, and streamlining animal growth cycles. This would create a rolling freshness to all of our products, both on the wholesale market, catering to the demand of extremely high quality, locally sourced meat where animals are treated humanely.

Together, the litany of savings produced by our food system will bring cost to an all time low, making the billions of dollars in government meat & dairy subsides all but irrelevant. However, instead of giving the government back the subsidy money, or continuously use them, we would again ask policy makers to intervene, but this time on a federal level. These subsides should be shifted away from meat, and towards fruits and vegetables. Being that indoor plant factories will be commonplace in 2050, we expect cost to plummet for vegetables, but they still deserve government subsidies to lower the cost even further. In our many interviews we kept hearing about the high prices of natural foods. By lowering the cost of meat through advanced technology and shifting policy, we can reduce natural food prices to within reach of average, local, low income families.

California is currently the media capital of the world, projecting the image of what the idyllic life can look like and leading the world by example in both policy and sustainable technology. This sustainable version of the American Dream is what has called two of our three member team here to the Bay Area. And by leading the charge into sustainable meat production, the Inner City Ranch will continue California’s centuries long tradition of attracting the world’s brilliant minds with bold visions of the future. 

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Conference/event


Join the conversation:

Photo of Oluwafemi Abioye

Dear Sunday,

This is a laudable endeavor, I would considering collaborating with you in our future project because zero waste is our targets and where we could use the animal droppings and waste to generate energy while having an inner city ranching system to serve the fresh food needs of the cities

Oluwafemi Abioye

Photo of Sunday Lai

Dear Oluwafemi,

Thank you very much for reaching out. We look forward to learning more about your projects and collaborating in the future. Please stay in touch! Thank you!