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Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA):

With technology evolving quickly enough for science fiction to become an overnight reality, it’s not surprising that news outlets seem to feature vertical agriculture, indoor farming, or hydroponic growing every few days. Futuristic urban buildings that contain lettuce grown in plastic pipes and farmers dressed in lab-coats do make for a great story, after all.

All of this innovation is certainly newsworthy, but the overlapping terms and technologies may blur together for grocery-store shoppers who are simply trying to decipher where their food comes from. In order to clear up this confusion, and make these topics more accessible, it is useful to begin with an explanation of Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA)—the method of production that FreshBox Farms uses to best provide for its customers.

So, What is Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA)?

Controlled Environment Agriculture is an umbrella term used for many varieties of indoor plant cultivation. This can include something as simple as a DIY greenhouse or as complex as NASA’s Biomass Production System. Most generally, however, CEA can be defined as a method of cultivating plants in an enclosed environment, using technology to ensure optimal growing conditions.

The CEA cultivation process can be done in virtually any form of contained area, whether that be a skyscraper, home, or warehouse. This flexibility permits plants, and therefore food, to be grown in almost any location, creating agricultural opportunities in typically infertile areas, such as deserts, cities, or outer space. Moreover, by using this method food may be produced at any time of the year, because CEA’s regulated environment is not subject to the same weather-constrained growing seasons that traditional agriculture is. Subsequently, as concerns build surrounding conventional field agriculture, including its impact on topsoil degradation, water usage, and distance from urban centers (to name just a few), CEA is increasingly being looked toward as a viable alternative for modern food production.

How Does Controlled Environment Agriculture Work?

controlled environment

This agricultural method functions by controlling for several factors that influence the growth rate and health of crops. These factors most often include:

  • Temperature (air, nutrient solution, root-zone)
  • Humidity
  • Carbon dioxide
  • Light (intensity, spectrum, interval)
  • Nutrient concentration
  • Nutrient pH (acidity)

In order to effectively manage growing conditions, CEA farmers typically engineer technological systems, which adjust the input and output of nutrients and resources to the plants within their enclosures. Over time, several forms of such technologies have been experimented with, and refined, to the point where they are now commonly applied within CEA operations. Some notable examples of CEA technologies are the frequently publicized methods of hydroponics, vertical farming, and LED light growing.

Controlled Environment Agriculture: Hydroponic Aeroponics

A slight departure from traditional hydroponics, the aeroponics set-up utilizes a mist of solution to deliver nutrients to the plants’ root systems. The unabsorbed mist then condenses and returns via gravity to a reservoir tank for recycling. This technique is used to prevent the plant from becoming water-logged, and to increase the amount of oxygen that is delivered.

How Does Hydroponics Relate to Controlled Environment Agriculture?

Now that we have laid out the basics, it becomes important to reemphasize that hydroponics is a method used within Controlled Environment Agriculture for the best production results. This is not to say that space-saving and nutrient-efficient techniques like vertical farming and hydroponics cannot be implemented to a lesser degree of success in outdoor or uncontrolled environments. However, it is CEA’s cooperation of strategic growing strategies with technological environmental controls that creates optimal agricultural solutions.

What Are the Benefits of Controlled Environment Agriculture?

While there are many great answers to this question, which we will address in future blogs, some of the principle benefits of Controlled Environment Agriculture are that it enables:

  • Much Lower Water Consumption
  • Cleaner Growing Practices (For You and the Environment)
  • Better Location and Distribution to Cities
  • No Usage of GMOs Necessary
  • Consistent Availability

After examining the food production results attained by the cooperation of hydroponics, vertical farming, and other techniques with Controlled Environment Agriculture, the question consumers should be asking is not, “Why should I care about this?”, it’s “Where can I get some?!” Read the full article here.

Share this article using #GrowMoreUsingLess and FreshBox Farms will donate $1 to Convoy of Hope, to advance their sustainable agriculture initiatives in support of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal #2 for food security.


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