A Cornell team is leading a new project  to investigate how Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) compares to conventional field agriculture in terms of energy, carbon and water footprints, profitability, workforce development and scalability. Strategic FEW (food, energy, water) and Workforce Investments to Enhance Viability of Controlled Environment Agriculture in Metropolitan Areas is funded by a three-year, $2.4 million grant from the National Science Foundation, through its new funding initiative called Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy and Water Systems.

Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA), such as greenhouses or plant factories, may provide an alternative to conventional systems of field-based production and long-distance transportation to supply metropolitan areas with locally-grown vegetables. However, comprehensive information is lacking on the environmental (energy, carbon and water footprint) and economic sustainability (profitability, work force development) as well as the scalability of CEA compared to conventional field production.

A systems modeling approach will be used to compare the economic and environmental footprint of CEA vs. field vegetable supply chains, test novel systems to optimize resource use efficiency in CEA vegetable production, foster industry-research networks and structured workforce development programs to facilitate the acceptance, adoption and continued improvement of viable CEA systems in metropolitan areas. Collectively, the project will:

  • Lay the groundwork for more sustainable FEW (food, energy, water) systems exemplified by CEA and vegetable production.
  •  Provide knowledge and insights to enable informed decision making by policy makers, city planners, entrepreneurs and current CEA operators.
  • Develop educational resources to train an appropriate workforce for a growing CEA industry.

More information:


Nutritional Composition of CEA Leafy Greens: A Case Study on Carotenoids of Kale Grown in Field, Greenhouse, or Indoors

Presentation by Dr. Neil Mattson (Cornell University) and Dr. Marianne Nyman (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute) about some of the work from their National Science Foundation-funded August 25, 2020 at the (virtual) Indoor Ag Science Cafe,  organized by the OptimIA project.