Since its inception in 2014, SolarCell has been focused on helping to resolve the food desert problems of Homewood, and create a sustainable food and social ecosystem for its residents. Last year, we defined the scope and designed the DC HEART Bioshelter to help generate produce for the local community and a restaurant. Currently, we are building a 50,000 square feet vertical farm factory in an under-utilized warehouse space, to supply food not only to the residents of Homewood, but to the grocery stores, farm to table restaurants, and CSA programs throughout the Greater Pittsburgh Region. With this farm, we are bringing local and clean produce right to the front doors of Homewood residents who, until now, live in a food desert. Once our facility is operating at full capacity, it will produce 1300 tons of fresh food annually, employee about 25 locals in tech and manufacturing positions, and produce nearly $3.5 million in annual revenue.
SolarCell envisions all communities throughout Pittsburgh to have hyper-local resilient food systems in place with a network of food systems facilitating an ecological relationship with production and consumption of fresh produce.
Current Partnerships and Relationships
SolarCell has been working diligently all year to secure the needed partnerships to make this vertical farm a reality in Pittsburgh. First, we secured a partnership with Antar Group, a local Homewood family company, and its President, John Brewer, to utilize their 50,000 square feet warehouse, commonly known as the “the Pittsburgh Coliseum” for the farm factory. John and his family fully support the venture, and we're excited to have them as partners for the project.
In addition, we have been communicating extensively with the Urban Redevelopment Association (URA) to guide us in the implementation of the project. They are helping us through the logistics of the project in regards to funding, construction, zoning, and other guidance necessary to build such a large produce manufacturing facility.
We have also received interest from Penn’s Corner Farm Alliance, Allegheny County’s largest cooperative of farms, which directly serves the residents through a community supported agriculture (CSA) program and farm-to-table restaurants. Penn’s Corner will allow us to reach the residents and restaurants as soon as our facility begins harvesting the produce.
Another significant partnership secured by SolarCell is the technology license from Garden Fresh, a Minnesota based company that has already proven the viability of commercial aquaponics, through prolonged, profitable operation. Their CEO, David Roser, has agreed to allow us to license his technology, and even expand upon it to incorporate solar microgrid to the design. We selected Garden fresh after a thorough analysis of over 30 agriculture technology firms around the world.
Lastly, SolarCell has committed to making a portion of the facility, equipment, and resources available to students in Chatham University’s Falk School of Sustainability to perform research in crop science, crop diversity, and commercial production. Chatham is a non-profit educational institution and this partnership will allow us to scale our impact, leveraging the best in research and development.
The financial model for the project has been finalized and we are seeking initial funding for building renovations and partial operations of the facility. The renovations will begin early next year with the ability to begin farming in early Spring. Since the selected system is highly modular, we are able to begin production at half the capacity and then grow to meet the demands of our clients. This allows us to reduce waste and focus on creating strong distribution channels for the residents of Homewood and the Greater Pittsburgh Region.
The financial model accounts for the technology licensing and real-time seasonal customer demands through our conversations with Penn’s Corner and local produce distributors in the city of Pittsburgh. In order to successfully meet the demands in different seasons and take full advantage of the spring season, we aim to initiate farming in Spring and run at full 50,000 square feet capacity by end of the Summer, which allows us to meet the fall and winter demands.
Contact this team about Funding, Collaboration or other methods of support.
Hi Dean when I was in Calif I heard you talking to all these men, now reading this it is a realistic idea coming true... all I can say is WOW!!!
Love this idea and love how sustainability mixes with engineering and the greater community. This one deserves funding for sure!
Looking forward to seeing you go global...and I strongly see that happening! Kudos!
Good luck guys, I love what you're doing
This is exactly what the community needs!! Can't wait for this to get started!!
Sounds like an amazing idea, would love to see this implemented, it would do wonders for the community. Working with Chatham is just icing on the cake!
These guys all share an obvious passion to make the world a better place. Great to see them working on such an impactful project! Good luck!
SolarCell is a great company run by intelligent and aspirational leadership. Would love to see this project come to fruition for Pittsburgh!
SolarCell is a great company run by intelligent and aspirational leadership. Would love to see this project come to fruition for Pittsburgh.
This is what the world needs! Young entrepreneurs developing new ideas and infrastructure to produce energy without destroying our planet.
This project seems like a great example of coupling larger issues of global sustainability while also giving back to the local community. Love to see this type of thinking. Looking forward to seeing how it plays out in Pittbsurgh.
This is exactly what Homewood needs to catch up to the rest of the city. Can't wait to see this happen!!