December 18, 2015

18/12/2015: Inner city farming set for freight-ening new technology

A revolutionary new idea has sparked a great deal of enthusiasm across the urban farming market. The latest development  presents the latest in ‘grow anything anywhere’ technology that could see a sharp increase in inner city food growing. But what is this new idea, and is it really such a big deal? 

For company website, click HERE
Hailing from New England, USA, the Leafy Green Machine container is the brainchild of Freight Farms, according to an article recently published by CityLab. Cofounder Brad McNamara had been consulting on rooftop greenhouse construction for several years, driven both by a love for good produce and for activating underutilized city spaces. But those projects can take a couple years, with the permitting and design, and the specific needs of each site make them hard to replicate.

Refrigerated shipping containers made it possible to transport fresh and frozen produce throughout the world. Freight Farms outfits these containers with a vertical hydroponic grow system and LED lights, all of which are digitised to give the farmer detailed data on water flow, temperature, and lighting. They sell for about $80,000 each. McNamara says they’ve sold 50 this year, with customers in 16 states and a few Canadian provinces.

“We just harvested 50 pounds of baby kale in December and we had our first frost back in October.” The slim profile makes it easy to slip a farm into a city’s in-between spaces: the strips of field wedged between buildings, parking lots that never fill up, undeveloped side lots. Despite its small footprint, a 320-square-foot container can match the yield of a two acre plot of land, the company says, thanks to the highly efficient vertical hydroponics.

But they also get customers in massive food services companies like Sodexo and Aramark, who want to supply their campus food contracts with fresh and locally grown fruits and vegetables. Other buyers are wholesale distributers, the companies that carry produce the last mile to local grocery stores and restaurants. 

Jon Olinto got involved with Freight Farms as a way of supplying fresh greens to b.good, the Boston-based fast-healthy restaurant chain he cofounded. He’d dabbled in urban growing—like cultivating tomatoes in baby pools on the roof of one restaurant—but wanted to expand the supply by installing a freight farm.

One acre in 320 square foot of space. source
It wasn’t so easy at first. The b.good team got turned down by landlord after landlord who didn’t want a farm on their property, but eventually made an arrangement with a property management company and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to install one under the I-93 overpass. 

They partnered with Scott DeLuca, an ex-finance professional who wanted to start farming, and promised to buy DeLuca’s produce for the b.good restaurants. The first seeds went in at the end of September and have now matured. In the process, the space around the farm has evolved, too.

“Two years ago it really was wasteland—you would never even walk underneath it,” Olinto says. “This dead space has been converted to actually grow fresh veggies. It’s going to be 365 days a year. We just harvested 50 pounds of baby kale in December and we had our first frost back in October.”

Read more HERE.
 

The Global Miller
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