Gene Giacomelli is a Professor in Biosystems Engineering for interdisciplinary education, research and outreach program for greenhouse and other advanced technology systems. He received a Ph.D. in Horticultural Engineering from Rutgers University in 1983. He also has a Master's degree in Agricultural Engineering from the University of California-Davis and two bachelor's degrees in Horticultural Science and Biological and Agricultural Engineering from Rutgers University. Here at the University of Arizona he teaches Controlled Environment Systems which is an introduction to the technical aspects of greenhouse design, environmental control, nutrient delivery systems, hydroponic crop production, intensive field production systems, and post-harvest handling and storage of crops. His research interests include controlled environment plant productions systems [greenhouse and growth chamber] research, design, development and applications, with emphases on: crop production systems, nutrient delivery systems, environmental control, mechanization, and labor productivity.
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Hey everyone. Welcome to another episode of the poly greens podcast I'm Joe Swartz from am hydro along with my friend and colleague Nick greens of the Nick greens grow team. And we've got another amazing guest today to talk about his journey in controlled agriculture and really truly he's one of the giants in the industry.
For sure. We've got so many great people. That have come through, um, and done some amazing work, but I don't think that there's anyone that I've worked with or been affiliated with who has had such a big impact on the industry as a whole. So we're very grateful to have Dr. Gene Giacomelli with us here today.
Um, Gene's a professor of Biosystems engineering at the university of Arizona. He's one of the former directors of the CAC. And, uh, he's doing some very interesting work taking food production out of this world if you will. So, uh, Jean welcome. Thank you so much for being here with us today and, uh, thanks for joining the podcast.
Well thank you for having me. It's, it's a good opportunity and with so much going on in the industry right now, and CA it's good that you're doing this, and it's a pleasure to be a part of it. Excellent. Well, thank you so much. Um, I have some notes in front of me here. I took the Liberty of going through my library just to, just to kind of quickly go back a little bit as to Jean, um, imprint.
Okay. The industry, I've got a handout that Jean gave to me in 1992. So that was the one, about 137 years ago on a, a growing system. Back when he was at a cook college at Rutgers university. And, uh, I have some notes from a seminar that I attended. It was a crop King growers, uh, seminar back in Florida. Uh, the gene was presenting out.
I've got three pages of notes, uh, from him, uh, as well as you said, the handout, um, on some really innovative as the Rutgers single cluster tomato production system that you were working on in New Jersey at the time. So Jean was, um, as we've talked about many times on the podcast, um, A lot of our experience, a lot of the real innovation in the industry is coming through the private sector and through commercial growers and what they're doing.
And sometimes there's always been challenges where the disconnect between academia and the commercial industry. And I really think that, um, uh, as we had a few weeks ago, we had Dr. Murat Cassera, uh, on the, on the show and we, we see that there are some. Amazing folks in the academic world that are transferring a lot of that information, knowledge over to the, uh, the commercial we got to encourage to is, um, people to give knowledge to the academia world and the commercial side, right.
And the industry side, um, I was doing meetings with NASA and I was the only one from the industry at these meetings. Everybody was from academia world and I was helping, but I think we need to encourage more growers and. And let go of some of the information they have the helpful side, so it can work together.
Yeah, certainly. I mean, gene and, and that's, that's, that's an excellent point. The, the, the actual, the demic world in the commercial realm really should blend together. And that's where all the amazing stuff happens. And obviously Gene's work has really transcended that. We've had some amazing guests. We have, we've had Mirage.
We've had Jen from arc who went on to after her time at university of Arizona. Going on to found one of the most innovative, controlled environment, ag growing companies in the world. Um, we've got Dr. Greenhouse, Nadia Saba coming up, uh, at a future episode, as well as Damien Solomon. So you can see that the commercial end of the production industry, um, has blended into research and academia.
All again, under, under Jane's watch and his guidance. So we're really lucky. So Jean, can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you got into this industry to begin with and kind of where you began? No, I think you've made a very good point about the industry connections and, and you mentioned my Rutgers starts, um, and basically a professor, bill Roberts.
And Dave mirrors where the, my mentors, my, uh, the faculty educators that, uh, instilled the concept that you're, you're doing research, you're developing academic information, but you're going to apply it. You're going to put it out there for the industry to take advantage of and utilize it. So they were the first, I believe, uh, to, to instill in me that, um, you're going to be meeting, you're going to have to.
Speak to two growers, you're going to speak to the industry so that you can learn how to communicate. And, and we did. Um, and, and, and now we see students coming out of the controlled environment ag center that some are going into academia, but there's only so many places. Uh, not enough actually out there.
I hope there'll be more in the future, but, uh, they're all going into the industry and, and supporting production and activities in controlled environment. And yes, um, the single trust to manage a production system brings back some memories. That was a, that was a 10 year project at Rutgers university. And.
Bill Roberts. Dave mirrors were a big part of that, but also my academic advisor for my PhD, uh, Harry James from plant sciences and, and here's a key. Um, it wasn't just engineers working on it and it, and it wasn't engineers only talking to commercial industry people and bringing them in to solve problems.
But it was also working with the plant scientist or a culturalist because it is an interdisciplinary challenge. Anytime you walk into it. Controlled environment system to provide the environment and racket, Shira really elaborated on this to provide the environment you need to, to grow that crop. And, uh, and to know what that environment should be to get the end product that you're looking for.
So that. Uh, opportunity for me in my early career in the 1980s was to learn about the nutrient film technique to help develop actually the Evan flood the concept for transportable tables that we use for the single trust tomato production system. Um, and, and do some studies with aeroponics plus, um, cable culture is something that, um, uh, came back.
Uh, here at CX in our Mars, lunar greenhouse, uh, cable supported growing system was really a part of my, my PhD and then to meet people. That was my first opportunity to meet Merle. Jen said, uh, he was, he was a colleague of bill and Dave's. Uh, he came to Rutgers. He saw the cable culture that I was growing tomatoes suspended in the air on cables with tubes underneath in a vertical NFT system.
Um, sounds a little illogical. Um, uh, you don't see many of them around, but one of them in commercial production, but one of them may be going to space, um, in, in the future because it is probably the most lightweight, um, collapsible. A system that could, uh, could be used to grow in, in hydroponics. I like to think that as one of my few, uh, time and a place with people, events, you know how, uh, uh, you, you get a cohort of people, researchers of academics, of students, undergrads and grads that just have a direction.
That they really want to go. And, um, that was one of them with, uh, with the single trust system. Um, prior to that, I actually had worked on a solar collection, uh, demonstration project at the Q Pat greenhouse in New Jersey. Um, with, with Tom nanny and Paul Kandel, we were working because of de beers provers on 10,000 square foot, solar collector, field, hot water.
To go into the cube pack demonstration one in a, in a third acre greenhouse. And in that I learned that, um, the floor heating system using hot water in the floor, um, the, the overhead curtain. Insulation systems were being studied at that time, uh, to demonstrate their economic viability, um, and to use greenhouses that are energy efficient, a double layer polyethylene, for example.
So they taught me very early on, um, again, another team effort, um, with the solar gang, if you will, to, to look at the bigger picture and to see where your research could be applied and even how to integrate it. To make, uh, uh, a better system, um, uh, that followed, uh, even another opportunity, which was my, really my first with NASA.
And there was the New Jersey and score, which was in 1996, an opportunity for a five-year program that, um, Harry James, Dr. Harry Jane's led at Rutgers to develop the food production system, the waste management or research. Recovery systems for, uh, such a, uh, food production system in space, uh, for a habitat, for example, and developing different food technologies, because we had a tremendous food science department at Rutgers university.
So again, a five-year program with an interdisciplinary group of scientists and engineers. Um, leading to a production system. Um, again, my, my interest in engineering comes from way back. I was born and raised on a small vegetable farm in Southern New Jersey. Um, I learned about crops growing in the soil.
There were no hydroponics. There were no greenhouses there. Um, but that was my introduction to agriculture and my interest in engineering and how we could take engineering to maintain environments. Um, such as in a greenhouse to do things for the plants when nature would naturally do that. And I found that so exciting and just fell in love with greenhouses and the ability to provide for the plant.
And direct it as best you can, um, giving its genetics, uh, to a, to a product or to, to an end end result. Um, along there, um, uh, came, uh, Morel Jensen. Uh, I had mentioned him. And I did a sabbatical leave to the university of Arizona in the, in the late 1990s, 97, 98. And, uh, got to see the, uh, the beauty and the opportunities and expectations here at the university of Arizona and Morel had been working in the environmental research lab for the previous 20 years.
Prior to that here at Arizona. So controlled environments had been here for a long time and he had this vision that there should be a new development of controlled environment and a center, and was able to go to the state and develop a yearly budget of $700,000 to develop this. And, um, with that came an opportunity.
Um, and I, I returned here. In the year, 2000, um, to begin a new millennia millennia, uh, opportunity in controlled environments. And now here we are 21 years later, but that became another time and a place and people, um, uh, cherry, Kubota. Uh, became one of my first hires here in part, because of the international program that I had done at Rutgers university, uh, with Japan.
Um, also with the Netherlands, but I met Sherry Kuboto when she was an undergrad in, in Dr. laboratory in Japan. Um, she of course developed a career there and, uh, we have the opportunity to bring her in as the controlled environment, plant physiology person. Uh, I became, uh, the engineer on that side and then was able to invite in the higher Moroccan Chira as a real.
I'm a research engineer in, in developing models and, and, um, uh, systems. He had a very similar outlook, uh, that I had, um, production. And as he had mentioned production efficiencies, uh, which we knew was very important for, for the future. Um, so with these. People and, um, students and, and the technology people that, that, uh, we were able to hire in, bring in, uh, Pat Rohrabacher was our teacher, Dr.
Pat robot. Um, and this was instilled in the center from the beginning that it's not just us doing research. And of course, we're going to be communicating with the industry, but we have to have a teaching program, a strong teaching program. I arrived in August of 2000. The. Controlled environment, teaching greenhouse a 6,000 square foot greenhouse was just near completion.
And I said, when are we planting the seeds? Because cause classes begin in three weeks and Morrell was a little bit concerned. Oh, we're not ready with controls. And well, I had breastfeed Kenya engineering technologists that I worked with at Rutgers. And I said, Steve, we need to get this going by the end of August.
And sure enough, we had planting of that first crop and, and on, we went from there almost every student that comes into our CAC program, uh, at the university of Arizona has the opportunity to give some hands-on growing. Um, they were primarily tomatoes in there, but also cucumbers and sweet peppers. And this allowed us to have the plant scientists, the horticulturalist who really wanted the plant side of things, but also the engineers to, to, to participate together, to learn, to communicate together and to, and to see the challenges of the greenhouse.
Um, and, and in that beginning was the. Um, development of the academic program that we still have here today. And we're trying to, to keep expanding. Um, there was a backlog of graduate students when I arrived to that and we're waiting to get going with controlled environments. So we had to get this greenhouse up and going very quickly, but we've discussed some of these.
You will have some of them like Dr. Greenhouse, Nadia Saba. Uh, it was in that first cohort. Um, how, what costs us at village farms? Uh, the research director there, um, Efrin Fitz Rodriguez is that chip bingo university in Mexico. Now at PhD, all of these are PhDs that, uh, but, but he's in Mexico. Um, educating the young people that they're in, in controlled environments.
And as you know, their industry has, has really expanded over the years. And, and there's many more that I'm not mentioning, but, but essentially, um, this group, again, a time and a place with the special people, um, these being graduate students and then undergraduate students coming into the, uh, into the program there.
Isn't it interesting. Link at this point, I want to bring up with Mr. Phil Sadler of Sadler machine company. I met him when I came to the sabbatical in 97 and we developed a relationship with how NASA could, could be, um, improve on his growing systems and Phil as a one, man. Um, shop and develops and builds all his own components.
Um, and, and he was very amenable to developing, uh, opportunities here at the university of Arizona. The first one was the South pole food growth chamber. Um, and, and this was a unique opportunity to, um, uh, basically, uh, compete for a, um, a contract, not a research contract, but a developmental contract. For food growth chamber that would be, um, uh, built and, and operated at the new South pole station, uh, in Antarctica.
Uh, we won the contract and in, in doing so then, um, with, um, a very strong, uh, young lane Patterson, um, who is now at green sense farms. In Indiana. Uh, we developed, um, we, we, we built it. Phil, Phil manufactured it. We constructed it and began operation of it in the laboratory at the university of Arizona. Um, in 2001 and two.
Um, in December of Oh three, we shifted, took it all apart, shifted to the South pole in 10 huge crates. Um, when it got to it, they re-installed it and, and, uh, turned it on and began operating it. Well, um, part of our responsibility for this brand contract or for this, this development contract was to make it operable.
And we said we would stay on for one additional year after delivery. To maintain it and to, to, to educate people about it, about his operation. And we did, um, we sent lane Patterson down as the first Emissary, if you will, uh, to, to really turn things on and beginning, um, the operation, um, it used a closed recycling and FTE system.
Um, as well as some deep flow hydroponics, it, it was, it was only 240 square feet. But we could produce at one point 77, zero different types of crops, mostly the small lettuce greens and all but fresh vegetables for people down there who couldn't get them before. And the success of it was the lighting system.
That Phil Sadler had envisioned a water cooled high pressure sodium lamp. This was before LEDs were, um, an op an option. Um, so we tested it at the university of Arizona and developed a, a, a protocol for, um, a thousand watt HPS lamp that could be within inches of the plants. You can actually touch it with your hand.
You wouldn't want to keep it there, but, um, it wouldn't burn. You. Um, and it didn't burn the plants. So we had a nine foot ceiling, um, and thousand watt lamps in there, uh, 12 of them. Um, and we could, uh, we could produce a tremendous amount of fresh festivals. The goal was a salad for 70 people every day.
That that was the goal. And we could, um, watch and monitor the data of the growing system. Work with the, uh, person, the tech person after lane left, we would then, um, once a year, hire a new person. Through, um, um, the, the program to go down there and, and operate the system, uh, in association with the galley and the chefs that are down there, um, to produce the produce, the fresh vegetables and, um, that, um, continued more than one year we were on.
On call, if you will, once a week to the South pole for, uh, seven, seven subsequent years, um, uh, to keep it going and to learn more about, um, that system laying Patterson completed his masters of science degree. Because of the development and the operation of that. So, um, although it was a demonstration and a production facility from day one, um, we were able to get some research out of it because of the environmental monitoring that we were able to do.
Uh, you know, we, we worked with, um, you know, Phil built it physically, but the environmental control was the Argus system. Arc is climate control and, and, uh, its ability to communicate through the satellite when it was available. And the weather wasn't bad at the South pole. Um, we could collect data on a regular basis and in some ways, begin to recognize the challenges.
Of working at a great distance. This is 11,000 miles away. And having never had real contact with people in advance. Um, um, so we have discussions and they learn as they go. Um, they weren't necessarily hydroponics people or engineers or technical people. They just loved growing. And, um, we had this semi-automated system that, that allow them to do that.
Um, uh, following that, um, Phil knew of my interest and he had the interest with NASA. And then the originally was the lunar tree house. Um, when the presidential change somewhere there in the early two thousands of beginnings of the Mars, greenhouse, you know, where do you want to go today? Our greenhouse can be there.
So now it's evolved into the Mars, a lunar greenhouse, and, and, and that has been in development really, uh, since about 2001 at, at some. Stage. Um, and now it's it's, um, it has, it has four zones in it. It's still in our laboratory here on campus. And it's been particularly very interesting most recently because of the success of travel to Mars with the robots and the expectation that someday we're going to be bringing, uh, people, um, and some of the first things they're going to have to deal with.
Um, they call it life support. Um, you have to breathe, you have to have water to drink and process your food and you have to have food towers. So, uh, growing food seems like a logical thing to do because. It produces your, the calories and the nutrition and nutrients and the, and the fibers and the minerals that you need for a healthy diet.
But it also consumes the carbon dioxide that the people breathe out and provides oxygen and exchange. And also in a hydroponic system, it takes the salt water that we give in the nutrient solution and converts it into potable drinking water. That, um, appears as humidity moisture in the air, um, in the atmosphere that we have to condense out and that becomes drinking water and, and new hydroponic water.
So in that timeframe, when, and in the, the big project was between Oh nine and 17 2017. A team where the NASA secular space grant was awarded to the university of Arizona. And it was a three phase project where we ended up with close to three quarters of a million dollars and educated, a lot of young people on the challenges of a truly.
Or in the direction of a truly closed growing system with the expectation, of course, if we use our technology of today to operate and make it, then operate it and learn more, then we can bring back information from that semi-closed system and utilize it here on earth with the long-term goal. If you could do it in the extreme.
And resource limited environment of the moon or Mars, then why can't we do that here on earth as our resources get more, uh, limited. And, and I understood yesterday that the Southwest is going into a major drought and, um, restriction of water use. And the first group, I won't say people, but the first industry that's going to get hit is the farming industry, food production, and that's the outdoor grower.
So we want to be prepared. We need to be prepared. And the, and the U S is, is evolving dramatically and quickly into using controlled environments for food production. Um, in part, because of the local grown, the, the pesticide free, but to me, it's the water savings. That's the big resource that will become even more, more limited in, in the future.
But you can see in these examples again, the time and a place and people, examples, um, where I enjoyed. Working with the group to develop systems that do something engineers like to do something. And this is food systems always. And it's always, how can I use hydroponics? Know, avoid soil culture, earth, culture, or regolith on Mars for that matter and stay in a water culture situation using the NFT nutrient film technique or ebb and flood, which offers the opportunity for much easier motion and transport of a crop.
Within its growing system and that's labor savings and that's space utilization increases. And, and it's an investment of hardware, but it's a return in, uh, reducing operating costs. And that's always our, our trade off of how much automation and mechanization and, and how much labor do you keep, um, in there and how much labor can you improve?
Yeah, the quality of the work and the consistency. Um, I always, um, envisioned that greenhouses could be brought to a location where production agriculture is seasonal and the seasonal workers either, uh, find other jobs for, they have to travel with the crop as it, as it moves with the season. But with a greenhouse, you don't have to do that.
I mean, you can establish a, a seven day a week job if you want, but let's keep it down to six and, um, under relatively good environments, um, as opposed to the dealing with the weather elements outdoors. So having all that, then the, the controlled environment can fit more, uh, socially into the structure, um, of a community.
And it can really, I think, um, help, help develop, develop the community. Um, hydroponic systems are always the basis of, um, the goal is to produce the plants. And, and it's product, but you need that controlled environment around it to, uh, to maintain and to provide for its, uh, for its good, uh, productivity and it's, and it's in its quality.
Um, I think the, um, the concept of, of ebb and flood will be, we utilize more future more in the future. Um, right now, there's a lot of drippers out there and doing top drip irrigation. Um, and every one of those has to be installed and maintained and prevent from being blocked over time. Um, and the Evan flood does it doesn't have that problem.
Um, it, it can, uh, flood an entire bench shift and flooded an entire floor of a greenhouse simultaneously and irrigate. From below provide water to the root zone system below the crop and in a relatively uniform way in a water use efficient way. Um, um, I, I had a. Uh, an opportunity, uh, you a very unique one, um, uh, a few years ago, about 2015, or, um, I didn't realize that this very large seed company was interested in, uh, producing their seed corn in greenhouses.
And I got a phone call and I, I, I can remember, I think I was at the indoor ag con and I was walking around there with the phone. And the question was, um, can you grow corn in a greenhouse? And my typical response is you can grow anything you want in the greenhouse, but do you really want to do that? And can you afford to do that?
Um, well I knew the pocketbook of, of this group was, was pretty big. And, um, so they, they threw a challenge out. And whenever you throw a challenge out, um, particularly in your area and you're in your love, uh, love professionally. Uh, of hydroponics and control environment, you say, of course we can do it. And they said, well, we want the first harvest in June.
And I think this was April and corn is 75, 80, 90 degree, 90 day production period. But the timing was right. We had this Evans flood system. Um, in a greenhouse where the tomatoes had just been removed and, um, T Lac, Mahata one of our, our greenhouse technicians. I knew he could pull this off, uh, as we, we worked together and sure enough, we were able to demonstrate, um, um, seed corn or a production of corn.
Maybe not the best quality on the first prop as you can. Well imagine, but when they came and they were excited about it, Um, well, we developed a three-year, um, research program basically that, um, demonstrated how to nutrition, the irrigation, um, and the roots zone, um, the pot size and the material that was to be used.
Um, so example that, um, understand what the crop can do, and they knew that very well, but mostly from the open field. And then put it into a controlled route zone with hydroponics and controlled environments. Well, today there's a seven and a half acre facility, just up the road in, in Miranda, um, operated by the bear corporation, um, um, that, uh, purchased Monsanto who.
Who are the company that originally helped develop this? Um, and they are using this for their research and development and they have two large greenhouse complexes associated with a two acre, I believe research facility and laboratories. So, um, it's not only food production. I mean, it's also growing, uh, plans for other uses in this case for producing seed for food production, but by the way, it's, um, all about the plant.
And it's all about growing in a, in a controlled environment using using hydroponics. Yeah. Uh, we, we tend to like, to, uh, always refer to as something a guest will say, and we'll say, Hey, hit your rewind button here. I want you to hear what gene said here. I want to hear you to hear what gene said there. And, um, and if you go back and listen to everything that Jean has said so far, You know, he's talked about a lot of different concepts and a lot of his experience, but it all kind of goes back down to systems and, and what you're looking to, to, uh, to produce.
So again, you know, cannabis production, floral production, food production, you know, they're kind of looked at as, you know, separate entities, but they're really all end results and yeah. We incorporate the different systems. And I'm really glad that they're not only a gene touched upon. Um, you know, initially the systems within a growing system, we talk about this on the podcast a lot, you know, people tend with the technology, they tend to talk about, uh, a container farm system or a greenhouse farm is kind of like a plug and play.
You set it up and you turn it on and the plants grow and it's proper management. Yeah, again, to, to Jane's point of it's all about the plan is that we're managing a larger array yeah. Interactions of different systems from environmental control systems, living biological systems from the plant to the microbial flora in the, in the root zone to the biologic surgical pest control.
We're employing all of these sometimes very delicate interrelated systems. It's, it's really like a directing a symphony, if you will. And, and Jean then took it to the point of. Incorporating the systems of the people, uh, not only from a standpoint of utilizing labor, providing research and, and, and his connections with people in the academia world, but also in terms of providing the social benefits, uh, employment coming from a farming background, myself, you know, seasonal farm, you know, entry level seasonal farm work stinks.
It's very difficult. It's very dangerous. It's very limited. Economics are terrible. Controlled environment. Agriculture has allowed communities to completely change that, um, dynamic completely. Um, and so I'm glad he's, he's kind of talked about pulling that all in and then to his last point of, of utilizing CA for different outcomes, it's not just about producing this crop or that crop, but actually developing right.
Um, uh, extra added value products. A lot of genetic work is being done right now as well. So that's a really, um, just fascinating. And then of course taking it to the ultimate level with space program. I hear this a lot, you know, we don't really, so we're, we're going to send some, some plans to the moon and we're going to grow in space.
Big deal. No, the, the, the value of not only the food, the life sustain. Um, life-sustaining products are part of that, but that interrelationship, um, in an environment like that, where we now have to go to, how do we manage waste? Why do we purify our water? How do we incorporate our, our air systems, carbon dioxide and, and generating alum oxygen as well.
Right. Those systems are all kind of, if you boil them down kind of into the little CA model, but expands to really cover so much more, we take it for granted here on earth, but, um, the level that we can do the waste going to a dog, a dog food companies, they use some of the lettuce wastes in the dog, food as pro as probiotics or something like that.
Yeah. Some persons or some. Systems waste is somebody else's valuable resource it. And we have to look at it that way. If we're going to have closed systems. And if we're going to have limited ability to add to those closed systems, you need to recycle. Um, and that's not to forget that we're on this ball that we call planet earth that has limited resources and has to go through natural recycling systems.
Um, and if they are long enough and we can wait them out, then that's fine. But if we begin tapping them so strongly that we need to regenerate things more quickly. And then we're going to have to do, uh, offer some help in doing that and essentially in our, in our modular and a greenhouse, that, that is the expectation we're far from the solution.
And I got to keep that emphasize that, um, I mean our hydroponic system demonstrated, um, biomass production. We could produce the plants, we could produce the calories. Um, the oxygen and the fresh water, and we monitored that and we monitored all the energy we put in to do that, you know, primarily the lights, um, uh, but also the HVAC system.
Um, and then it gave back to us, uh, the products that we're looking for, and it was that balance, those numbers that came to be of most interest to NASA. Not also the heat coming off of the lamps is also captured too, right? It can be used throughout the lunar County. Exactly, exactly. Um, the, the, the heat is, is, has to be, uh, cooled, uh, and in cooling.
You're also dehumidifying so that's a natural combination process, uh, which works. But the, um, what, what I think the most important thing that came out of that, and again, there's a lot more to do. Um, we did the energy balance and we put in the plant production of that energy balance. So we got an idea of how many, um, Grams of edible biomass, how much grams of food per input of, of light or of water or a labor for that matter.
And to me, this, this metric, this ratio is a number that we should be looking at in all growing systems on earth, because it can quantify. How efficient you are or how inefficient you may be, um, in producing in producing that crop. And that is beginning to happen. Now, we, we, we see that, um, the, the, the so-called smart agriculture and precision agriculture in the open fields they're learning to, to monitor and utilize that water more efficiently.
And if not the water, at least the nutrients, the nitrates that are growing into the soil and what's being used and what's being washed away, for example. So in the closed systems, we, uh, we have an unfair advantage. Um, we collect all our unused materials. It's there. Um, and you can do something with it. Um, again, we're learning how to do and what to do with it.
Um, but the fact that we could grow these crops and even, um, for, uh, not the first time, but. But certainly emphasized more than others in the past. Um, we were multi cropping in the same environment, which I think will be a natural thing you have to do. So no plant had an optimum far from it. They had to share and tolerate pH being too high or too low, a temperature.
Uh, we were growing lettuce with strawberries and tomato. Um, and then sweet potato. Well think about the environmental needs for those it's, it's so diverse, but you can do small things about where you locate them in the climate control system and, and at what level you're fertilizing. And no one grew at an optimum, but they all grew.
And, and that was certainly a, a big time goal there. Um, I'd like to add that, um, we're not finished. Uh, I've been saying that, but, but how do we continue? Um, the Mars, Linda greenhouse is still there. It, it is up and running. We have, uh, students that are learning how to operate. Um, and, and I love that. Um, plus it's there for when we have the opportunity to do a show and tell so to speak.
Um, you know, here is an operating margin and a greenhouse. Um, I challenge you to find that in many other places around the world, uh, but here it is, uh, in, in our lab, but I see the next opportunity. Um, and you might re remember that biosphere two is just up the road, about an hour from the university of Arizona, where it was developed almost 30 years ago.
Um, for, um, uh, a mission to Mars, basically that, that it was a closed three acre environment. Well, it had some preliminary hardware, a small dome of a few hundred square feet, and that is becoming. Operable again. And there's a Mankiw's stats who's working, uh, who we are working with, um, to help in the crop production side of things.
And it's it's, um, it's called Sam. Space analog for moon and Mars. So it's saying to actually moon and Mars and Kai envisions that this will become a demonstration habitat, um, uh, with, uh, with a food production component that we're working on, but also a laboratory, a living quarters component, and even a Mars yard.
Um, a lot of Arizona, it looks like Mars. You know, when you see, um, anyway, we, we can set it up. He can set it up so that, um, you can practice with space suits. You can practice, uh, with technology inside for life support. And I'm looking forward to this as, as the near future, um, next phase of what the Mars Luna greenhouse was.
Cause that was. The food production component and some of the life support, but now include that into a living quarters and, and habitat that has laboratories and has the opportunity to do go out and, and visit, um, the Mars yard, so to speak. Um, that's will be the legacy. I think that will be the continuation and hopefully the further expansion.
Of what is done here at the university of Arizona relative to habitats and, and living on, uh, on other planets. Yeah, we, we had a chance to visit with you and spend some time with you in 2019 at the biosphere and see the, the, um, the lunar greenhouse. And, and that's where we met T lock, um, who earlier, and I mean, obviously he was one of the, uh, the, I believe it was the second biosphere.
Um, Uh, experiment. Yes, he was the second crew and he was, yeah, for six months, he was in the first crew was two years. Um, um, but, but T Lac became their grower, uh, and, and, um, uh, was able to resolve a lot of the challenges that when you close the door and you can't bring in. Integrated pest management opportunities.
You better have them inside and you better know how to deal with the environment so that you can minimize your, your pests and disease, but also maintain your, uh, your productivity. Yeah. So, so at biosphere, that's still there for people to go and see and walk through. Um, but just adjacent to, it will be this, uh, Sam two project, um, that I see is as being.
Utilizing the, the, the future opportunities of, uh, sensing and controls, uh, true. Plant-based environmental control that monitoring how the plant is, is surviving. Um, if it's suffering in any way, or if it's under. Good conditions that you maintain the environment, um, utilizing that. And, um, along that lines is the ability these days because of the sensors and because of the computer based monitoring to collect enormous amounts of data about your system and begin to utilize that data.
Um, uh, some people call that artificial intelligence. Uh, certainly there's a lot more to that, but I call it just utilizing information in a, in a pragmatic way to evaluate your system almost in real time, but also to be able to predict. What the future will bring into, into that system. So data collection, data analytics is a big part of, uh, of the future of controlled environments as, as well as developing of additional sensors for, for better monitoring in particular component monitoring of the plant systems themselves and how they are.
Um, they are surviving in their, in their environment. Um, you know, which, which leads to. Um, um, more education needed, uh, that's an understatement. Um, uh, and we see the interest of the young people and of, of people that are changing careers. Uh, coming into our program, but, uh, coming into other programs around the country, which are now really accelerating over the past five to 10 years, um, traditional ag schools that had gone away from production agriculture and, and moved into biotechnology, you know, in the laboratory, uh, are transitioning back into food production systems for outdoors, of course, but.
Uniquely now in addition to controlled environments indoors, and we'll need more educators to educate the future students, but we'll need more students coming through the program, then have this knowledge of plants and the technical side at some level. Um, and that can go out into the industry too, to raise it too, to add to the diversity of the availability of supplies of components, of, of options.
Um, I, I certainly came into a time when hydroponics was, there were two or three places around the country. I could get any supplies. I had to go to Europe many times or Japan to get components. And, um, I saw as I visited those countries where they had suppliers down the road, you know, something breaks. I can have a new part tomorrow.
If I'm in the Netherlands, if I'm in the U S that was a challenge. That's certainly wise and that's changed now. So along with this desire for the, um, um, fresh foods and vegetables, the, the, the societal demands for this comes that the, the companies that are supporting that industry. And they are expanding in number they're expanding in quality and in diversity in themselves, um, this will make for a greater and an improved future of, of controlled environments that, um, throughout the U S and, and, and that.
Um, I'm glad I was able to last long enough in my career to, to see it, to see it, come to fruition, to see the USDA actually support controlled environments with research France, you know, and it's been the specialty crops, grants, research, uh, group, uh, research programs. Um, has only been around for about 10, 12 years or so right now, um, where before it was field production was, was more interesting and engineering was, you know, build a better tractor.
Um, now it's built a better environment and, and improve the environment that your surgeon that is surrounding you. Don't. Provide detriment to that environment and provide jobs for people, improve their quality of life in terms of jobs, but also in, in food production itself. So I usually ask, uh, the gas kind of where they came from, how they got in, um, what's going on in the industry with them and where they see the industry going.
And you really rolled all that all together in a nice, neat little package and, and made it very easy. So, um, Thank you so much for that information. Cause that's, that's so valuable. Um, both in terms of your experience as well as your insight, uh, in the industry. So obviously a lot of people as, as you and I have both, you know, uh, been in the, in the industry a very long time, Nick as well that we've seen this, this incredible influx in both interest from young people.
Um, and aptitude when I was in ag school, um, everyone that was in my, my, my class in my programs. We're farmers, they came from a family farm. I've gone back to speak. You know, I was in a sustainable ag class that was, you know, 30 or for, uh, 30 to 35 people. And I I've gone back in recent years and spoken to three and 400 people and most of whom do not come from a farm to get involved.
So, so that's a really valuable piece to that. So people are looking. And so how did they get in touch with you? How did they plug into. Um, all of the great things you're doing all the great things that university of Arizona and CAC are doing. How can they connect with you? How can they kind of plug themselves into that and get involved?
Well, um, I, you're going to put information out to define me by email. Certainly you're welcome to do that. And I hope you do. Um, uh, but the controlled environment ag center at the university of Arizona and, you know, it's out there. Um, check the website for sure, but let me emphasize that it, um, the, the students that the type of students, the diversity of students, it doesn't matter where your interests lie.
As long as this can add to where you want to be in the future. That's what I always did. You know, they come in, uh, I love plants. Oh, okay. Um, let's see, where might you want to go with that? You know, and then do you, do you want to teach, do you want to do research? Um, do you want to be a producer and many of our students, um, become growers.
Um, um, move up the chain into management and, and do and do very, very well. So I encourage all students and I answer emails. I like to talk to students. I'd like to understand what their interests are and, and where, where they're coming from. So, um, we, we also have the, the short course that we do once a year.
Uh, we do invite students. Um, to, uh, to attend, uh, that's a challenge for them. They don't have the finances and we don't have that them either to bring them in. But now with the remote learning that we do, that can, that can change things certainly. And, uh, they can become more involved. And I would say, look to, um, projects that interests you, you know, if space and habitation and food production, all combined to be of interest, then certainly we, we offer that as a unique.
Application of controlled environment agriculture, but we also have that teaching greenhouse, that's doing fundamental top drip irrigation in a closed loop system to, to teach students, uh, to give them experience. Um, and, and I find that as being, um, is being critical, um, also come to Arizona, um, go to your local school, you know, uh, land grant university, but there's something about travel that makes learning, I think, more efficient.
Uh, you get to see different points of view. Um, you get to see things that, well, look what they did with NFT. You know, or, or what is this and flood you you're, you're not gonna find that in all the universities, um, that, that can demonstrate that simultaneously, um, that with communications, um, learn to speak.
Um, the sciences, uh, horticulture and the technical side, the engineering side of controlled environment agriculture. Um, that, that is certainly, um, what we, what we encourage the students to do. And we bring them in early. Um, we'll bring in freshmen, we'll bring in even local high school students to do internships with us.
And, um, you know, with the expectation, hopefully they're coming, coming into the program, but, but it gets them interested in exciting and gives them hands-on. That's fantastic. And I do have a one question if I can throw it in there. Um, if you can go back to a younger self of Jean, um, and give some advice to a younger self, a younger version of yourself, what would that advice be?
Yeah. Um, yeah. What would you do differently as far as, um, well, some of the things that I just said, travel, um, gain experience, uh, don't turn down opportunities. Um, um, learn to communicate with people. Um, I think, um, deal with time, time is your most limited resource you really have as a person. So develop a creative means to deal each day.
With the limited time you have to do all you want to do. And, and, and, you know, after that, um, make sure you get into a profession or a job that you love. That getting up every morning is, is delightful. Um, um, I'm going to do this work quote, unquote, that they're going to pay me for that I love to do. And if you can get into those situations, um, just design approve, um, appreciate, um, what you can do with it and your achievements.
Hmm. Amazing life advice as well. So we got the extra bonus plans that another rewind a time right there. Okay. Sorry, sorry. No, that I was talking to Joe. That's another time to rewind a rewind button again. Absolutely. Uh, that we're, we're gonna roll that into our new book. Jean Jochem Ellie's rules for life.
Put that in there for sure. So, you know, as we've said, we all stand on the shoulders of giants and, and, uh, we've talked about Dr. Jensen and kind of his. Uh, you know, his reach and who he is inspired and led and educated. And then you coming from that have now done in your reach is just astounding and, and the industry is going to be much better off because of you and everything that you've done, and your work is not done, uh, obviously as well.
So we always talk about everything that's been done, but there's a lot of work, as you said to, to keep on doing so, um, Thank you so much, Jane for your time today. Thank you for your, for your input, into your experience and, and for all that you do in the, in our business, because, um, it really is what drives this industry forward.
So, so we thank you again. Uh, we thank you all for listening and we hope you got a lot out of it. Please feel free to continue to send us some more input. Requests for, um, for new guests and please reach out to Jane, follow him online, follow his social media and the CAC. And, uh, we look forward to the next chapter.
So thanks again, everyone. And we hope you all have a great day. Thank you.