Reflections on Supporting Controlled Environment Agriculture in NYC

Written by: Kat Rogers, Christian Kanlian, Mason Leist, and Brian Byun

With support from: Dr. Anu Rangarajan (1), Maya Ezzeddine (1), Wythe Marschall (2)

  1. Cornell University, School of Integrative Plant Science
  2. Harvard University, Department of the History of Science

  1. Executive Summary

Throughout the summer of 2018, we, four Cornell undergraduates, worked at farms and consulting companies within the controlled environment agriculture (CEA) industry in New York City. In addition to taking part in the daily work of an agricultural start-up, we created an online survey to better understand the needs and challenges of the various entrepreneurs within the CEA industry. We hoped that this project would inform how to support the growing industry, and also act as a starting point for future research. Through the survey, we identified a variety of takeaways pertaining to locality, mission and identity, labor and expertise, technical needs, funding, and policy. One recurring theme throughout our project was that CEA producers saw their work as more than growing food or running a business, but also as having a greater impact on the communities around their operations. For future research, we make recommendations for work on a variety of issues, including the significance of the term “hyperlocal”, consumer research, technical support for crop production provided by public research institutions, developing an economic baseline of the CEA industry, creating pathways into the industry for underprivileged residents, as well as advocacy for government policies that support urban agriculture. 

  1. Background of the CEA Industry in the NYC Area

This report highlights responses of 13 different CEA companies operating in the greater NYC metropolitan area. These companies have a variety of production strategies (ranging from contained hydroponic operations, to aquaponic green spaces) and activities (e.g., food justice, consulting and event hosting). Each of these companies work towards different missions, while simultaneously contributing to the urban agriculture landscape of the greater NYC area as a whole. The size of the operations we examined ranged from 0 to 51 employees, with a mean of 13.5, and a median of 4.5 total employees. The companies we examined have all been operating for less than 10 years, with seven companies in operation for less than 5 years.

  1. Methods/Approach

        We began the summer tasked with developing an independent research project that would be both of use to the companies we worked for and align with our personal academic interests. Several topics were considered including verifying companies’ claims of sustainability, corpus analysis of CEA websites, and comparing the costs and benefits of various socially-oriented CEA groups. After meeting with Cornell Cooperative Extension's (CCE) Urban Agriculture specialists and PhD students researching CEA, we decided a baseline of the industry was needed before more topic-specific research could be conducted.

We created an online survey using the Qualtrics platform, and distributed it to members of the CEA industry operating in and around NYC that were part of the New York City Agriculture Collective. We encouraged the initial recipients to forward the email to their colleagues in the industry. A chance to earn a $100 gift card was offered as an incentive for filling out the survey. Free tickets to an industry event at which we presented our initial findings were also offered as an incentive for completing the survey.

The initial survey consisted of 80 questions, all of which were optional, and took approximately 40 minutes to complete. The questions were organized into 9 different sections: 1) Company Background, 2) Company Structure and Certifications, 3) Marketing and Products, 4) Operations, 5) Technical Support, 6) Policy, 7) Industry Network, 8) Labor, and 9) Mission & Identity.

Due to a lack of responses to the larger survey, we re-sent an abridged version of the survey with 14 questions deemed most important. In total, we received 13 responses across both surveys. Through this process we were able to narrow the scope of our survey based upon the findings the original survey yielded.

The names and companies of respondents remained anonymous for this report. 

  1. Findings: 

We narrowed down the key topics of the report from the nine sections of our initial longer survey to the six presented below based on which survey questions were of greatest interest to us, and which questions yielded results that delineated clear patterns or opportunities for further research. The six key topics of this report are: 1) locality, 2) identity and mission, 3) technical needs, 4) funding, 5) labor and expertise, and 6) policy.

Locality

Our results suggested that location was important to CEA producers because of their desired relationship with consumers and nearby residents. While the cost of real estate did play the biggest role in determining the location for operations, Figure 1 shows how other factors significantly affected location selection. In addition to “facilities access and cost,” most respondents marked “distance to consumer” and “community development” as factors that influenced their decision. This suggested that choosing a location is complex, and not just about the bottom line. Respondents considered more than the financial costs of renting a space for operations, taking into account the potential for a positive impact on their surrounding communities, and proximity to the people who will buy and consume their produce.

Responses to our question asking which phrases were important to the company’s mission also showed us that members of the CEA industry value the term “local,” defined in our survey as produce grown less than 400 miles of the place of sale. However, Figure 2 illustrates that respondents ascribed greater importance to the term “hyper-local” over  “local” in describing their mission. The implications of this distinction were unclear, but it could signify that they see themselves as different from the broader local food movement. Perhaps the distinction reflected a desire of NYC producers to emphasize that their food is grown in the more specific locality that is New York City, distinguishing themselves from the produce grown in the greater tri-state area that is also labelled “local.” “Hyper-local” could serve to appeal to consumers by implying notions of greater freshness and reduced environmental impact from the fewer food-miles than what local has come to be related to.

The results in Figure 2 were noteworthy also because they demonstrate which phrases resonated less with CEA company missions. Respondents did not favor “indoor grown” and “smart cities” to describe their work, which was surprising considering the unique technology and growing environments they utilized in their agriculture. “Organic” was also by far the least chosen phrase.

Identity/Mission

        The identity and mission of each company is vital in defining the ways in which controlled environment agriculture operations see themselves in the growing field. As the identity of each operation is defined, an understanding of the needs of the collective can be more holistically understood.

Individual identity

        For this section of the study, respondents were asked to identify the defining characteristics of members of their respective companies. The respondents were not asked to distinguish between paid and unpaid workers, which may have affected how they answered. The responses showed that nearly all of the respondents considered themselves farmers. Of the remaining characteristics given, respondents most frequently considered themselves technologists, entrepreneurs, and educators. It is clear from the data that respondents viewed the members of their companies to be representative of an array of attributes, as they listed more than one defining characteristic to identify their company’s members. Perhaps because of this multi-dimensionality, finding qualified candidates was noted as an area of difficulty, as employers seek specialized yet well-rounded applicants.

Company Mission

        As Figure 2 illustrates, respondents were asked to select phrases that they associated with the company’s mission. In this section respondents viewed safety, flavor/taste, locality, lack of pesticides, and accessibility as the most important of the components of their company’s overall mission. These factors play a role in how CEA companies market themselves to consumers.

        In examining the packaging and marketing tools of each company, two of the five most important factors most frequently advertised are: Hyper-local, and flavorful/ tasty. Square Roots, boasts “Local urban farms, a subway ride away” and highlights both locality and flavor, stating “Our fresh and flavorful herbs are grown in indoor, vertical farms, right in the heart of Brooklyn.” Farm.One uses the phrase “local, rare, fresh” on the homepage of their website (as of November 25th, 2018), also working to highlight locality, but leaving out food safety, pesticide usage and accessibility from their mission. This disparity between how companies choose to market themselves versus what they value internally may be reflective of the need to modify company language to better comply with the perceived needs of the consumer. Accessibility, for instance is often conflated with locality, especially if cost does not present a barrier for the product’s consumers. Most of the respondents surveyed currently serve high-income demographics. Thus, while accessibility may be an industry goal, marketing and packaging overall lack statements regarding efforts towards accessibility beyond locality. Safe and pesticide-free farming practices were also omitted from mission statements despite their importance to companies. These factors, in particular food safety, are seen as important, but may not be seen as marketable brand identifiers.

Technical Needs

After hearing from commercial CEA growers, it has become clear that the same wealth of technical support and growing advice that exists for traditional outdoor farms is neither

available nor accessible to indoor growers. The relative youth of the industry and the competitive environment of tech start-ups are likely both contributors to the prevailing situation. In contrast to traditional outdoor agriculture operations which often pass from generation to generation, indoor farming operations are often started by entrepreneurs with experience in tech, health, or finance, but who might be unaware of resources available to support beginning farmers.

Practices for maximizing yields are a cornerstone of agricultural research and are most often specific to individual crops. However, this crucial information is not yet available to indoor growers using relatively new methods of production. Survey responses confirmed that if the data has ever been collected, it is almost never publicly available, let alone easily accessible. A probable explanation for this lack of publicly available data is that most of the industry-leading research on indoor growing is being done by the larger private operations that have sufficient manpower and financial resources. Understandably, they want to establish and maintain any competitive advantages they might discover, but this secrecy may be a barrier to the growth of the industry as a whole. Unlike in outdoor agriculture, where a wealth of best practice information ensures new growers have resources to start their operations, beginning indoor farmers are largely on their own. If information was more readily shared it would likely speed the development of SOPs and training programs, which our survey suggested were both areas of concern among growers.

Another major technical need that greenhouse and vertical farmers were concerned with is food safety, namely pursuing certifications tailored to outdoor farms. Food safety certifications are of great importance to CEA producers because they increase the reach of their produce in markets, allowing them to fulfill the requirements of major distributors and vendors. Furthermore, food safety poses very distinct, but not less important, concerns to CEA producers than to outdoor growers. However, certifications such as Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) require protocols only applicable to outdoor farms, and thus create confusions as to what is and what is not required of CEA operations for food safety. Resources must be created to delineate what is applicable to CEA for food safety certifications, while governing bodies such as the USDA develop updated certifications inclusive of CEA operations.

Funding

        Traditional startup funding sources such as venture capital or angel investment are not as accessible to early-stage CEA producers as they are to start-ups in other industries. The majority of our survey respondents cited personal investment as the predominant source of funding, accounting for 75% or more of total startup costs for the year of business founding. Only a small minority of our respondents cited angel investment as the predominant funding source for the early-stage startup. It is, however, important to point out that all of the companies surveyed are 10 years old or younger, which may play a significant role in determining funding and revenue streams.

The average rate of return on assets or ROA for the U.S. agriculture sector tends to be rather volatile. ROA is calculated by adding net farm income plus interest expense minus any unpaid labor or management and dividing that total by the average assets of the farm sector (Gloy 2017). Many traditional farms will not break even for the first five to ten years depending on the agricultural products produced and the initial investment costs. Data for the break-even point for CEA producers is not widely accessible, however, with higher start-up costs, less diversity in crop production, and fewer traditional investment vehicles available breaking even may be a challenge for CEA producers relying on agricultural sales alone. Our survey data indicated that for the CEA companies that responded, the average period to break even is four years. We also found that during the 2017 fiscal year, the majority of survey respondents cited alternative revenue streams such as events, merchandise, or consulting (activities other than the sale of agricultural products) as the majority of revenue.

Labor/Expertise

The needs for labor and expertise varied among our respondents, and many of our respondents listed more than one labor need. In our results from Figure 3, we see most demand for laborers to assist in production, including both low-skilled and skilled laborers and assistant growers. To a lesser degree, actors demonstrated some need for other expertise such as plant science, engineering, and marketing. This variety of labor needs may be due to how new the industry is.

Currently, we question who will fill these labor needs in the future, and how people will receive the necessary training to fulfill their operational tasks. These questions also represent an area of opportunity for CEA operations to engage with the people in their vicinity, despite increasing trends toward automation. Whether it’s by providing jobs to the labor force in the surrounding neighborhoods, or actively creating pathways for underprivileged, aspiring farmers to become part of the growing CEA industry, members in this industry have the capacity to make a greater impact in the locality they are in. 

Policy

After hearing from CEA operators and managers, it is clear that a complex and variable set of factors influence a CEA business’ ability to succeed. Everything from tax abatements to food safety certification can play a role in determining whether a new venture will survive. Determining which of those challenges are both urgently pressing and are feasibly addressed by Cornell and the Cooperative Extension system, was a major goal of this research.

The types of policy concerns that companies reported varied with the type of growing operation and business structure. Organizations that focused more on community development reported a need for increased grant and internship opportunities to get more young people involved in CEA. Companies using produce sales as their main source of revenue were more likely to suggest the city provide tax incentives for urban agriculture companies on utilities such as energy and heating. Almost all survey respondents indicated that there needed to be more incentives for companies that use sustainable energy and water use practices or operate in buildings with energy-efficient certification.

One grower reported that in his experience, HVAC building codes were often loosely enforced, allowing mixed-use buildings to become a patchwork of poor HVAC solutions that can be “decentralized, inefficient, and potentially unsafe.” Although minimally effective HVAC systems may be sufficient for soley human-occupied spaces, the heat given off by LED or HPS grow lights can be too much for outdated systems to handle. HVAC information might not be readily disclosed by real estate owners, but can cause significant hindrances to the construction of indoor farms in otherwise suitable spaces. More research is needed to confirm this anecdotal analysis, but if this is the case with properties across the city, serious efforts would need to be made to standardize and enforce HVAC codes.

Another trend in survey respondents was a suggestion for increased subsidies for locally or CEA-grown produce in order to decrease the cost to consumers. This potentially indicates a desire to increase the reach of CEA-grown produce beyond an upper-class market, although more research is needed to confirm this hypothesis. The mechanism for the distribution of these subsidies was unclear, although they could possibly be managed by municipal or state agencies, such as the New York State Agriculture and Markets, which has reach in NYC as well as across the state.

  1. Key Takeaways, Conclusions, Recommendations

After analyzing both the larger and the abridged survey data, we reached a number of conclusions corresponding to the six topics of our key findings: locality, identity and mission, technical needs, funding, labor and expertise, and policy. The following conclusions are informed by the responses to our survey questions, as well as our experiences working in the CEA industry and interacting with members.

We found that locality was important to almost all CEA operations, regardless of business structure. More specifically, respondents often favored the term “hyperlocal” to “local” to describe their produce. This suggests that respondents ascribed value to their produce because of their “hyper” proximity to their customers. Future research should query as to why respondents ascribe significance to “hyperlocal”-- perhaps the environmental benefits of decreased food-mileage, the supposed relationship between farmer and consumer-- and why they seek to distinguish their produce from “local.” This work would shed light on how and what respondents see themselves as contributing to the food system. Additional research should also consider if such distinctions matter to consumers, if they perceive the greens grown in Brooklyn as better or different from those of the local agricultural areas such as the Hudson Valley.

In terms of identity, respondents were likely to see their employees as representative of a variety of different identifiers, most notably, as farmers, entrepreneurs, technologists, and educators. We also found that companies valued hyper-locality, flavor, lack of pesticides, and food safety, but that hyperlocality and flavor were most often highlighted in company branding and mission statements. This could be due to perceived familiarity of consumers with traditional food marketing, as well as an aversion to, or unfamiliarity with, CEA technology. This section points to the opportunities for additional research in consumer opinion of indoor farming and the associated technology, and why descriptors of the technology, data, and growing environments unique to CEA are less favored in CEA marketing. There is also opportunity for more in-depth work on the identities of CEA companies. This could include investigating which descriptor the respondents see as most representative of their organizations, and how that affects their product or output (tech hardware, wholesale, educational workshops). This could also shed light on the validity of many of these companies’ claims of being a social enterprise-- operating not just for profit, but also for people and the planet. Research could also be done on the demographics of those involved in the CEA industry, asking if and to what degree racial and gender gaps exist in this nascent industry. Future work could compare these results to those of traditional agriculture to see how inequalities may carryover, or differ.

For technical needs, we found that respondents frequently sought technical support on a variety of issues depending on their production system, but the competitive nature of the industry may prevent growth among industry members more broadly. The proprietary qualities of CEA production data may favor the companies with the greatest available capital and thus the greatest capacity to fund research. Future work should include investigating what CEA-specific research is necessary to democratize this industry, and encouraging public research institutions to conduct and make publicly available that research. Efforts should also be made to encourage industry members to identify on what grounds collaboration might be possible. The development of food safety programs specific to the scale and conditions of CEA could be one of these opportunities for industry-wide collaboration that would benefit all members of the industry. Food safety and pest management certifications currently offered by organizations such as the USDA should also be adapted for indoor operations in order to make it easier for CEA growers to attain and reach institutional and wholesale markets.

In terms of securing funding for CEA businesses, the slower, unpredictable return on investment may be one of many factors stopping angel and venture capital investors from funding early-stage CEA companies. However, the youth of the CEA industry as a whole, and the lack of significant data supporting the financial future of the industry may be other important factors. Therefore, it is imperative for future work to develop an economic baseline for CEA companies: by better understanding the financial strengths and weaknesses of the industry as a whole, CEA growers are more likely to secure funding in the future.

Labor needs of respondents varied, but overall seemed to show greater need for lower-skilled assistance in crop production. Labor also constitutes a major opportunity for CEA to take a step further towards social equity. Future research should consider how public institutions could aid in providing pathways for underprivileged, local residents to take part in this developing industry, as they are uniquely equipped to address the food needs of their own neighborhoods. This work may be in the form of helping to develop an accredited curriculum and certification for aspiring indoor growers, of financial support for industry members to offer paid internships to local residents, or of grants to help fund grassroots CEA ventures founded by the residents themselves.

Policy needs also varied depending on the business structure of the respondent. Responses ranged from grant and internship opportunities for aspiring youth to tax incentives and subsidies for CEA-grown produce. Respondents broadly indicated the need for more tax incentives around using sustainable energy sources and operating in energy-efficient buildings. Policy work has begun to serve as a grounds of collaboration for not just CEA industry members, but also the organizations involved in urban agriculture more broadly. Groups such as the NYC Ag Collective have taken steps to collaborate and create collective priorities in policy needs. Future work should advocate for not only policies that benefit CEA, but also those that promote the growth of all urban agriculture projects in NYC, all of whom are essential to building a more just and sustainable food system.

Overall, our results repeatedly suggested the multi-faceted role of the farmer and farm in our food system. CEA growers are farmers, entrepreneurs, educators, technologists, and community members. CEA operations consider their relationship to their surrounding locality and customers to be important, with many engaging in outreach, educational events, social media, and job training. This points to the broader impact that CEA can have, not just in growing food in a hyper-specific locality, but in using agriculture and innovative technology in that locality as a means of educating, organizing, and providing new economic opportunities to surrounding communities. This work beyond that of selling produce is also what makes the bulk of many CEA companies’ incomes. The challenges and needs of the CEA industry represent a new dimension to the use of technology and sense of entrepreneurship that have always been inherent to commercial farming. While significant work needs to be done to address these new dimensions, particularly to democratize the industry, supporting NYC’s CEA industry also means encouraging aspiring farmers in the United States to be well-rounded. The success of the CEA industry depends on members’ proficiency in not just new plant technology and business, but also in engaging and sharing knowledge with people young and old, in navigating challenges in government policy, and in developing and advocating for a vision for a more just, environmentally sound food system.

  1. About the authors

In the summer of 2018, we had the opportunity to be a part of the CEA industry through this research project. We were placed at four different CEA companies by our research lead Anu Rangarajan. Mason Leist worked at Smallhold, Brian Byun at Square Roots, Kat Rogers at AgTech X, and Christian Kanlian at Agritecture.

Mason Leist and Smallhold:

        Mason’s main ongoing tasks included creation of onboarding materials, supplier side research, maintenance of units in the field, creating a mushroom substrate compost factsheet for distribution, and the creation of unit guides for each unit. Smallhold eventually looks to translate their model to incorporate unit management on the part of businesses they serve, thus one of Mason’s greatest priorities was creating guides that were user friendly and easy to follow. Mason also conducted research on effective growth methods for lion’s mane mushrooms through comparing differences in puncture size and placement upon mycelial bags.

Brian Byun and Square Roots:

At Square Roots, Brian had a very well-rounded experience, with the opportunity to assist in business development, research & development, and marketing. The bulk of his work with the company was in developing a food safety plan for GAP certification. This entailed updating, writing and developing standard operating procedures (SOPs) as well as overarching policies to ensure food safety in every aspect of operations. This experience was particularly formative, in that it became clear that SOPs act as an important training tool in developing efficient procedures and consistent quality and yield. Brian has begun to develop SOPs for the student farm at Cornell, and apply what he has learned through this experience.

Kat Rogers and AgTech X:

Kat worked at AgTech X, a coworking space in Bushwick that caters specifically to entrepreneurs within the ag tech and urban food spaces. Kat conducted research regarding funding sources for early-stage ag tech and CEA start-ups and built a database of alternative funding sources in order to improve access to funding information. She also participated in the building of a Plant Hub system, a fully enclosed growing space that can be utilized to track and record controlled environment crop growth on a small scale. In addition, Kat had the privilege of engaging with many different actors within the Ag tech, CEA, and urban food industries through events and classes held in the AgTech X space.

Christian Kanlian and Agritecture:

Christian updated and expanded Agritecture’s archive of growing data with the most recent research from Cornell and other land-grant universities, enabling Agritecture to give clients more accurate yield estimates. In addition to plant-focused work he also conducted market research for new clients which included site selection, farm design, and economic modeling. He also researched and planned an in-house trial of uncommonly-grown hydroponic root crops to evaluate the feasibility of their integration into Agritecture’s farm designs. In addition he participated in site visits to evaluate potential vertical farm locations, assessing HVAC capacity, location accessibility and distance to markets.

  1. Appendix A: Work Referenced

"Controlled Environment Agriculture." Cornell Controlled Environment Agriculture: About

Cornell CEA. Accessed November 2018. http://cea.cals.cornell.edu/bestPractices/index.html.

Gloy, Brent. "Rates of Return in U.S. Agriculture." Agricultural Economic Insights. August 01,

2017. Accessed November 2, 2018.

https://ageconomists.com/2016/09/19/rates-return-u-s-agriculture/.

Reynolds, Kristin, and Nevin Cohen. Beyond the Kale: Urban Agriculture and Social Justice

Activism in New York City. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2016.

Rudnicki, Alex, Rebecca Hopkins, Dafna Bareket, Caitlin Boas, Joseph DeMarco, Devika Kaul,

James Lin, Philip Malley, Julie Manoharan, Daniel Wohl, Ella Wynn, and Nancy Degnan.

Rooted In Resilience: Policy Recommendations for a Resilient City Landscape. Report. International and Public Affairs, Columbia University. New York, NY, 2018.

  1. Appendix B: Survey Questions:

 

Company Background

 

Q2 Company name

 

Q3 Year founded?

Q4 What is the placement of your growing space? Check all that apply.

▢        Rooftop

▢        Interior of building

▢        Underground

▢        Outdoors, ground level (incl. greenhouses)

▢        Shipping container or other mobile structure

 

 

Q5 What is the exposure of your growing space?  Check all that apply.

▢        Fully exposed, open air

▢        Enclosed, protected from elements sole lit by sunlight

▢        Enclosed, protected from elements with combination of sun and artificial lighting

▢        Full closed, with artificial lighting

 

 

 

Q6 What is your plant growing medium/strategy? Check all that apply.

▢        Soil

▢        Hydroponics

▢        Aeroponics

▢        Aquaponics

▢        Other (Please Specify)

 

Q7 How many total paid employees did you have in 2017?

 

Q8 How many W-2s did your company write for 2017?

Q9 Describe the number of employees in 2017 for each category below:

0

20

40

60

80

100

120

140

160

180

200

 

Full-time, year-round

Full-time, seasonal

Part-time, year-round

Part-time, seasonal

Volunteers, annually

Interns/apprentices, annually

 

 

 

Q10 How many growing facilities does your company operate?

Q11 What is the total facilities square footage?

Q12 What is the square footage of growing space?

Q13 What was your annual gross revenue from sales of products in 2017?

Q14 How many unique agriculture products (SKUs) were sold by the business in 2017?

Q15 How many pounds of product did you sell in 2017?

Q16 Please estimate the percentage of total marketable product that was unsold by your company in 2017.  (This does not include the amount of product that may not have been sold by any of your customers.)

 

0

10

20

30

40

50

60

70

80

90

100

 

Percent of marketable but unsold product in 2017

 

 

Q17 If you had unsold product, what were the primary reasons? Check all that apply.

▢        Lack of market demand

▢        Insufficient volume for markets

▢        Overproduction

▢        Products grown for research and development

▢        Other  

Company Startup, Structure and Certifications

 

Q18 What were your sources of funding to start the business, as percentages of total start up costs? The total should equal 100.

 

0

10

20

30

40

50

60

70

80

90

100

 

Personal investment

Venture capital

Angel investments

Loans

Grants

Donations

Crowdfunding

Pitch competition

 

 

Q19 Year of first sales?

Q20 First year of breaking even? If you have not broken even, when do you expect to?

Q21 What is your business structure?

o LLC

o Sole proprietor

o C-corp

o S-Corp

o 501(c)3

o Other (Please specify)

Q22 Is your business a certified B-corp?

o Yes

o No

 

Q23 Does your company currently have GAPs/ food safety certification?

o Yes

o No

 

 

 

Q24 Does your company intend to pursue food safety certification within the next 2 years?

o Yes

o No

o Uncertain

 

 

 

Q25 Does the business have organic certification?

▢        Yes

▢        No

 

 

 

Q26 Does you company intend to pursue organic certification within the next 2 years?

o Yes

o No

o Uncertain

 

 

 

Q27 Please share any other certifications that the company holds:

 

 

Q28 What factors did you consider (or are considering) when choosing your location? Drag and drop the factors which governed your location selection. Then rank these from most important at the top to least important at the bottom.

Rank of location selection factors

______ Facilities access or cost

______ Labor force availability

______ Distance to consumer

______ Distance to distributor

______ Community development

______ Job creation

______ Tax abatements or other incentives

______ Utilities costs

______ Transportation access

 

 

 

Q29 What markets do you serve? Check all that apply.

▢        Wholesale

▢        Direct wholesale (restaurants, small grocers, bodegas)

▢        Direct retail (on-premises sales)

▢        Direct to consumer (CSA/Farmers markets)

 

 

 

Q30 What were your sources of revenue in 2017, as percentages of total income? The total should equal 100.

 

0

10

20

30

40

50

60

70

80

90

100

 

Sales of agriculture products

Personal investment

Revenue from other activities, such as events, merchandise, consulting, etc.

Venture capital

Angel investments

Loans

Grants

Donations

Crowdfunding

Pitch competition

 

 

 

Q31 What are your current challenges in finding funding to grow the business? Check all that apply.

▢        We are not currently looking for additional funding

▢        There are not enough funding options available

▢        It takes too much time to apply for grants

▢        Grant awards are too small

▢        Investors are hesitant to invest in food and ag startups

▢        Investors are hesitant to invest in mission-driven, “triple-bottom-line” startups

▢        Loans are difficult to secure

▢        Other (Please specify) ________________________________________________

 

 

 

Q32 How do you expect your sources of funding to change in the future?

Marketing & Products

 

Q33 What products/services do you currently offer? Check all that apply.

▢        Produce

▢        CSA shares

▢        Agricultural technology

▢        Events

▢        Education

▢        Green infrastructure

▢        Consulting

▢        Other (Please specify)

Q34 What do you see as your future product offerings? Check all that apply.

▢        Produce

▢        CSA shares

▢        Agricultural technology

▢        Events

▢        Education

▢        Green infrastructure

▢        Consulting

▢        Other (Please specify)

Q35 Which are your products' main competitors or sectors that your products are competing with? Please drag and drop your top 3 and rank.

Main Competitors for Our Products

______ Western US organic produce

______ Western US conventional produce

______ Local organic produce (within 200 miles of NYC), including CSAs

______ Local conventional produce (within 200 miles of NYC)

______ Greenhouses or CEA grown from outside of the metro area (20 - 200 miles away)

______ Produce from other CEA operations in the metro area

______ Other soil-based urban farms

______ Urban community gardens

______ International produce imports

______ Other (Please specify)

 

 

Operations

 

Q36 What is your operation's main source of nutrients and fertilizer? Select one.

o Organic

o Mineral/Synthetic

 

 

 

Q37 Does your operation think it is worthwhile to move towards biologically derived inputs as opposed to synthetic inputs?

o Yes

o No

 

 

 

Q38 Are more organic inputs feasible for your business plan?

o Yes

o No

 

 

 

Q39 What percentage of your inorganic waste goes to each of the following waste channels?

 

0

10

20

30

40

50

60

70

80

90

100

 

Landfill

Recycling

Reuse

Donation

 

 

 

 

Q40 What percentage of your organic waste goes to each of the following waste channels?

 

0

10

20

30

40

50

60

70

80

90

100

 

Landfill

Recycling

Compost

Reuse

Donation

 

 

 

 

Q41 How does your company get your product to market? Check all that apply.

▢        Walk

▢        Train

▢        Bike

▢        Car/Truck

▢        Other (Please specify)

Technical Support

 

Q42 What types of external technical support/research do you feel could be useful to your company? Please rate each of the following based on the level of usefulness.

 

 

Extremely useful

Moderately useful

Neither

Not that useful

Not at all useful

Crop variety selection/breeding

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

Nutrient mixes

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

Nutritional quality of crops

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

Lighting

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

HVAC

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

Food safety

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

Disease/pest management

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

Packaging and post-harvest handling

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

Value-chain development

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

Business development support

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

Market research

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

Environmental monitoring/modeling

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

Current government policies

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

Work force development

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

Access to funding sources

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

 

Q43 Which of these technical needs do you manage internally? Check all that apply.

 

▢        Crop variety selection/breeding

▢        Nutrient mixes

▢        Nutritional quality of crops

▢        Lighting

▢        HVAC

▢        Food safety

▢        Disease/pest management

▢        Packaging and post-harvest handling

▢        Value-chain development

▢        Business development support

▢        Market research

▢        Environmental monitoring/modeling

▢        Current government policies

▢        Labor force development

 

 

 

Q44 Which of these technical needs are you comfortable sharing research on? Check all that apply.

 

▢        Crop variety selection/breeding

▢        Nutrient mixes

▢        Nutritional quality of crops

▢        Lighting

▢        HVAC

▢        Food safety

▢        Disease/pest management

▢        Packaging and post-harvest handling

▢        Value-chain development

▢        Business development support

▢        Market research

▢        Environmental monitoring/modeling

▢        Current government policies

▢        Labor force development

 

 

 

Q45 How many Research & Development employees do you currently have?

 

Q46 How much do you spend on R&D annually?

 

Q47 Do you foresee spending more or less on R&D as you grow your business?

o More

o Less

o Remain the same as current spending

 

 

 

Q48 Rank the following in terms of importance to your company's R&D aspirations?

 

Extremely important

Very important

Moderately important

Slightly important

Not at all important

Design of growing systems

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

Lighting

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

HVAC

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

Plant science

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

Spacing/Density

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

Nutrient recipes

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

 

 

 

 

Q49 What types of plant-related IP hold the most value for your company? Please rank the following options.

 

Extremely valuable

Very valuable

Moderately valueable

Slightly valueable

Not valuable at all

Environmental growing conditions

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

Standard operating procedures

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

Plant space

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

Microbiology

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

Nutrient mix

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

Water usage

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

Substrate

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

 

 

 

 

Q50 What types of technology-related IP hold the most value for your company? Please rank the following options.

 

Extremely valuable

Very valuable

Moderately valueable

Slightly valueable

Not valuable at all

Light spectrum

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

Light heating

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

Sensors

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

Machine vision

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

HVAC

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

Automation

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

Shelving and other physical structures

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

 

 

 

 

Q51 Where do you usually go for technical support or expertise? Check all that apply.

▢        White papers

▢        Consultants

▢        Cooperative extension programs

▢        Peers in the industry

▢        In-house R&D team

▢        Other (Please specify)  

 

 

Q52 How does your team feel most comfortable receiving technical support? Rank with most comfortable at the top (1).

______ Online

______ In person

______ Email

______ Phone

______ Workshops and classes

 

 

 

Q53 Who comes to you for technical support? Check all that apply.

▢        Domestic investors

▢        International investors

▢        Domestic farm operators

▢        International farm operators

 

 

 

Q54 What general facets of your operation are proprietary? Check all that apply.

▢        Systems design

▢        Plant/Crop data

▢        Growing method

▢        Consumer data

▢        System modeling

 

 

 

Q55 Is your IP, or any of your data, a source of revenue for your company?

o Yes

o No

 

 

 

Q56 If so, what type of IP?

 

Policy

 

Q57 What have been the major policy challenges for your company? Please rate all options

 

Extremely challenging

Very challenging

Moderately challenging

Slightly challenging

Not challenging at all

Access to city property

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

Lack of tax abatement amendments or insufficient tax abatements

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

Zoning and rezoning policies and cost

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

Lack of subsidies and incentives for urban agriculture or insufficient subsidies and incentives

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

Access to capital

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

Government/city support for company development and growth

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

Access to information regarding current company standards

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

Support for the growth of the industry

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

 

 

 

 

Q58 What are some ways in which the city can better assist the CEA industry?

Q59 What are your biggest difficulties in navigating zoning, fire codes, and other city regulations?

Q60 What percentage of employee time is spent on improving urban agriculture policy?

Industry Network

 

Q61 What industry networks does your operation belong to? Check all that apply.

▢        The Association for Vertical Farming

▢        The NYC Agriculture Collective

▢        American Society for Horticultural Science

▢        Other (Please specify)  

Q62 If you participate in at least one industry network, what benefits does it provide you?

 

 

Q63 Generally, what information do you feel comfortable sharing with other network members? Check all that apply.

▢        Policy initiatives

▢        Plant data

▢        Production technology and data

▢        Business partnerships

▢        Market reports and findings

▢        Employee training programs

 

 

 

Q64 In the last two years, which of the following has your company engaged in to provide social and/or community benefits? Check all that apply.

 

▢        Events

▢        Education

▢        Food access/donations

▢        Innovative technologies

▢        Policy action

▢        Other (Please specify) ________________________________________________

 

 

 

Q65 How does your company support the growth of the industry as a whole? Check all that apply.

▢        Sharing technology with other CEA operations

▢        Sharing crop production information with other CEA operations

▢        Sharing research findings with other CEA operations

▢        Writing policy proposals

▢        Participating in industry networks such as the NYC Agriculture Collective

▢        Speaking to public about CEA

 

Labor

 

Q66 Which segment of your operation requires the most labor hours? Rank with the most hours at the top (1).

______ Seeding

______ Transplanting

______ Harvesting

______ Sorting & Packing

______ Delivering

______ Pest managment

______ Other (Please specify)

 

 

 

Q67 How do you find qualified employees? Check all that apply.

▢        Job fairs

▢        Job boards

▢        Recruiting services

▢        Industry networks

▢        College or university networks

▢        Other (Please specify) ________________________________________________

 

 

 

Q68 Do you struggle with employees leaving and joining other companies?

o Yes

o No

 

 

 

Q69 What type of labor and expertise does
your company most need currently?

▢        Low-skilled, laborer

▢        Skilled, laborer

▢        Assistant Grower

▢        Head Grower/Manager

▢        Plant Scientist

▢        Business Development Manager

▢        Engineer/Systems Designer

▢        Marketing Manager

 

Mission & Identity

 

Q70 How would you identify members of your company? Check all that apply.

▢        Farmers

▢        Entrepreneurs

▢        Technologists

▢        Educators

▢        Consultants

▢        Activists

 

 

 

Q71 What is your company's mission statement?

 

Q72 How are you working towards your mission in the short-term? In the long-term?

 

Q73 Which phrases align with your company's vision? Check all that apply.

▢        "Know your farmer"

▢        "Healthy and nutritious food"

▢        "Environmentally sustainable"

▢        "Social justice and equity"

▢        "Improving food access"

▢        "Farmer training"

▢        "Urban farming"

▢        "Controlled environment agriculture"

 

 

 

Q74 Please rate the importance of each of the following terms/phrases as they pertain to your company mission

 

Extremely important

Very important

Moderately important

Slightly important

Not at all important

Local (

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

Hyper-local (

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

Healthy

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

Nutritious

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

Safe

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

Pesticide-free

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

Non-GMO

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

Organic

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

Affordable

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

Accessible

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

Flavorful, tasty

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

Future of food

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

Smart cities

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

Indoor grown

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

 

 

 

 

Q75 Please rate the importance of each of the following terms/phrases as you see them pertaining to your consumers

 

Extremely important

Very important

Moderately important

Slightly important

Not at all important

Local (

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

Hyper-local (

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

Healthy

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

Nutritious

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

Safe

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

Pesticide-free

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

Non-GMO

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

Organic

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

Affordable

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

Accessible

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

Flavorful, tasty

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

Future of food

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

Smart cities

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

Indoor grown

o  

o  

o  

o  

o  

Q76 What do you see as the current challenges in consumer perceptions of CEA?

Q77 What consumer research would help your company appeal to more people?