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Drew Mathieson Center and Chatham University explore controlled environment agriculture at center’s greenhouse

The Drew Mathieson center for Horticultural and Agricultural Technology (DMC) remains dedicated to the preparation for the next stage in the DMC greenhouse operational evolution: the transition of approximately one-half of the existing commercial production space from floriculture to Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA). DMC is collaborating with strategic partners to break down the entire system into individual segments and identify associated best practices.

Early in the research process Chatham University’s Falk School of Sustainability and Environment was identified as a valuable collaborative partner organization. DMC partnered with Chatham University as a case study for two graduate-level courses, Fall 2018’s Applied Green and Social Innovation and Spring 2019’s Urban Agriculture.

Chatham University students received an in-depth orientation to DMC’s unique operating model, its history, and an outline of DMC’s CEA initiative. Students in the Applied Green and Social Innovation course developed and provided the “Hydroponics and Controlled Environment Agriculture in Western Pennsylvania Product Market Report.” The report reinforced the need to establish a market and sales outlet before produce is grown or harvested. Niche opportunities are available in the hydroponics and CEA markets through smaller regional distributors of produce and local restaurants. Hydroponic crop recommendations were included with projected volumes and crop price comparisons. The market research concludes organizations are seeking out local vendors with an emphasis on crop quality, selection, and price.

The Urban Agriculture students reinforced the need to develop a systems approach surrounding the transition to CEA and the potential impacts. They provided guidance to determine initial business planning metrics, identifying strategic partners, challenges, considerations, and opportunities.

This initiative represents a strategic investment in the CEA industry. The initiative will work to be a catalyst for market and industry growth that will be driven by consumer success and unique educational opportunities. The DMC and Chatham University collaboration is an example of partnerships that work through expanding our organizational impact by the combining of an established urban horticultural and agricultural facility with the research and academic influence of an expanding, cutting-edge university program. Unique and creative partnerships will continue to pave the way for new opportunities focused on research, education, and our ability to cultivate new sales and the expansion of our partner base.