Jan de Wilt is a big proponent of CEA or Closed Environment Agriculture. From The Netherlands where population density averages roughly 488 people per square kilometre versus Sweden’s mere 21, it’s easy to understand why.

For the first time in history, more people live in urban rather than rural areas, and transportation is a contributing factor to rising levels of CO2 and atmospheric pollution. For years, scientists have been saying that the world needs to produce 70% more food by 2050 to feed the growing global population — a significant proportion of which ends up as waste.

By building closed environment agriculture systems in urban or even peri-urban areas, the shorter distance required for shipping would mean that fresh food would be available to consumers for longer periods. Less produce would be damaged from the comparatively shorter transportation times, effectively reducing the amount of food that would need to be grown.

The integration of closed systems would also make it possible for agriculturalists to be able to monitor growth with fewer variables, collect data more accurately, and be able to optimise production even more so than is done today. The setup means that production is able to be completely organic as well as pest and disease free. The process itself can be either aquaponic or aeroponic, meaning that soil will no longer be necessary for growing plants.

The benefits of this are huge. A lack of genetic variation will no longer pose a threat to production and food security, due to the removal of vulnerabilities. Up to 90% less water will be needed as excess moisture will not be required to wet soil sufficiently to ensure that plants can take up available water, and consumers will no longer need to fret over synthetic chemical residues and product safety.

Plantagon is Sweden’s first established closed environment agriculture system built on a grand scale.

Based in Linköping, just 2 hours south of Stockholm, the development is essentially a massive greenhouse with endless growing trays, stacked multiple storeys high and powered with LED lights to facilitate growth.

An honorary member of Plantagon’s board and keynote speaker at OpenLab: New ideas for feeding the cities in 2050 — KTH, Stockholm; Jan de Wilt spoke of his work in The Netherlands. He described a closed environment system that he had developed and attempted to introduce. It was the perfect concept to achieve more sustainable food production. And yet, it was met with fierce rejection from the public. The government wouldn’t approve of its development and farmers called it a “supermarket” in a grossly negative sense.

Like Plantagon, Jan de Wilt’s system would have allowed for space-efficient plant production in an urban greenhouse. Only this greenhouse would be situated on top of other closed environment units below. In his concept, these additional closed environment units would hold livestock — animals such as pigs and chickens.

Jan de Wilt, honorary board member of Plantagon, Sweden
Jan de Wilt, honorary board member of Plantagon, Sweden


Imagine your meat still living and breathing. Unable to run through grassy fields. Trapped in a dark and completely enclosed dank, concrete enclosure. There is no longer any capacity to even begin to pretend that our food had a decent life before slaughter.

Achieving an environmentally sustainable food system, or any system for that matter, would be life-changing for generations of human beings on a global scale; but my question is this:

How much of our humanity would we be willing to forgo in order to reach that goal, that pinnacle? Would society be ready for factory farming to be brought to the most densely populated human areas? Could people disregard their ethics and moral compass to bring a system of intensive livestock farming — only acceptable to the majority as a result of social detachment created by physical distance, to our place of living? Would we ever be ready for that? Could you?

Cathy Xiao Chen

Cathy Xiao Chen

Community Manager

Cathy Xiao Chen is the Space & Community Manager at Impact Hub Stockholm. She co-organises #SthlmFoodMovement and consults on Food Sustainability.