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Figure 1
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Team 13

Team Members

Faculty Advisor

Erica Hindle
Jocelyn Phung
Alex Columbia
Mackenzie Sonnenberg

Dr. Matthew Stuber


University of Connecticut

sponsored by
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Optimal Design of Controlled Environment Agriculture Systems

The US Department of Agriculture estimates that 19 million people in low-income areas in the US have limited access to a supermarket or grocery store. These low-income areas with difficult access to food are referred to as food deserts. Not only has conventional agriculture failed to deliver reliable supplies of fresh food, these methods also consume high amounts of resources. In contrast, controlled environment agriculture (CEA) uses 90% less land, 90% less water, and provides a reliable food supply. Hydroponics is a common form of CEA that involves growing crops in water. Our project aims to design and optimize a hydroponics system to provide low-cost food to urban food desert communities while minimizing resource consumption and meeting nutritional demands. To demonstrate our design's performance in disparate environments, we have selected two different regions: New York City, New York and Phoenix, Arizona. Our CEA system meets net-zero carbon targets and uses minimal resources by utilizing solar panels, renewable energy credits, and rainwater collection. Our design approach was to develop a mathematical model that takes in the size of growing space and location-specific information, and computes the optimal ratio of crops to be grown to satisfy nutritional needs and economic viability. We aim to sell fresh produce to the local community at an affordable price to combat food injustices. To accomplish this economically, we are growing medical grade cannabis as a cash crop, from which profits are used to subsidize costs of the CEA system. Ultimately, our project delivers an economically viable and environmentally sustainable model to reduce food deserts using hydroponics.