Senior Design project "Controlled Environment Agriculture Technologies" with Adrienn SantaAfter working at the Hunt Institute over the summer of 2017, Adrienn Santa decided to continue her research in controlled environment agriculture in an attempt to help address the issue of food deserts in urban areas like South Dallas. Adrienn grew up on a family farm in Hungary. She expressed her surprise when she discovered how difficult it was to find fresh food in urban areas and deep sadness at the reality of food deserts in one of the most prosperous countries in the world.

The video in this post explains her passion and vision for high-tech, small, urban greenhouses to help mitigate extreme climates in order to bring fresh fruits and vegetables closer to the consumer.

In the Fall of 2017, Adrienn recruited a team and together they began their senior design project monitoring Evie, the mobile greenhouse. As shown in the images, Evie was invited to the Science Place at the State Fair of Texas. Adrienn led her team as they installed sensors to read temperature and humidity in the small mobile greenhouse during the length of the State Fair.

Santa said, “My main goal is to be able to apply my educational and life experiences to this research and to contribute to finding a solution to this pressing global problem of food deserts found in low-income communities.”

Controlled environment agriculture (CEA) is a technology-based food system used in large high-tech greenhouses for the purpose of controlling the temperature, humidity, airflow, and light in the building. With a greenhouse, the growing season can be expanded to be year-round if the inside conditions are controlled properly according to the requirements of the plants. With CEA, technology can assist the growers and reduce both the number of people and the amount of time needed to monitor and care for the plants. In the case of Evie, where the space available to grow is small, there are no low-cost solutions to grow food efficiently in small urban spaces as of the writing of this post. Combined with vertical gardening, technologies like hydroponics and grow lighting CEA can help to address food production issues anywhere from the most remote rural areas to urban areas.

The best possible orientation and structures of a greenhouse, heating, cooling, ventilation, lighting, and glazing as well as insulation materials are discussed in Adrienn’s report. Adrienn says, “Results show that the most efficient and sustainable technologies are currently more expensive initially than the other ones. Due to this fact, most of the time small urban farmers are not able to afford sustainable and energy-efficient technologies.”

The findings of her report Controlled Environment Agriculture Technologies, the team’s research, and their observations of Evie’s sensor readings were that Evie was too small for CEA technology. This led her to conclude that CEA technology needed to evolve in order for it to be useful and affordable for small-scale farming operations.

Adrienn Santa graduated SMU in 2018, and she married one of her teammates Osama and is now Adrienn Alolabi-Santa. She and her husband live in Austria where she is pursuing a Masters in Sustainable Energy Systems at the University of Applied Sciences Upper Austria.

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