There is nothing sexy about the word freight. Crowding shipping docks, abandoned and rusted on empty lots or sprayed with graffiti, shipping containers can be well…an eye sore. Oh, woe the life of a freight shipping container.
And yet Brad McNamara and Jon Friedman, founders of Freight Farms, see something entirely different in shipping containers – life, sustenance and possibility. So what gives?
Shout it from every rooftop
As fate would have it, McNamara and Friedman met not long ago – 2010 to be exact. A home hydroponics hobbyist, Brad was originally fascinated by Jon’s educational background in industrial design. Urban agriculture intrigued them both. Over drinks one evening, the friends decided to start their very own rooftop greenhouse development consulting firm based in their home town of Boston.
“What we quickly realized was that no one wanted to say they were just doing it (rooftop gardens) just for marketing purposes yet a sizable percentage were,” says McNamara. “We also realized that there are only a certain number of rooftops available as well as the outdoor climate factor,” added McNamara.
Upon that discovery, they started to focus on what they call the ‘forgotten areas’ – alleys, vacant lots even movable, enclosed spaces. “We discovered that a modular solution was the best option for greenhouse growing,” says McNamara. With sustainability in mind, McNamara and Friedman hypothesized existing structures that could be retrofit for greenhouse growing. Why not use unutilized 40’ x 8’ x 9.5’ freight shipping containers?
And with that, Freight Farms and its first Leafy Green Machine (LGM) were born weighing in at approximately 5 tons.
Old MacDonald had a (freight) farm
Brad chuckles when reminiscing about the sourcing the original LGM containers. “When we first started we actually had a hard time sourcing containers. All the ‘working’ ones were sold for immediate use and no one understood why we wanted the ‘broken’ ones,” says McNamara.
Part Old MacDonald, part Starship Enterprise each LGM is a lean, mean growing machine. A complete farm-to-table system, each LGM uses an insulated shipping container complete with vertical hydroponics, high efficiency LED lights, and an automated climate control system. No more scorched or frozen harvests.
“Our goal is simple. We want our farms to enable people to produce reliable, quality food close to where those people are,” says McNamara.
LGMs start at $76,000 and cost approximately $13,000 per year (average) to operate according to the company. To date Freight Farms has sold 26 LGMs, 18 of which are in operation today. They are designed around one thing – simplicity for the grower.
There’s an app for that
Foundational to each LGM (and Freight Farm’s success to date) is the Farmhand mobile app and store. “Anything a grower would need is right at their fingertips – data, controls, supplies, it’s all there,” says McNamara.
‘A persistent presence’
Once a grower decides the LGM is right for their needs, they are first provided with Q&A documentation as well as a 2 day orientation and training session held at Freight Farms’ Boston headquarters. Freight Farms then coordinates the delivery and utility (water and electricity) set-up for each LGM as well as sending out a ‘farm manager’ to do a complete walk-through with the grower(s).
A ‘harvest visit’ is then scheduled 6-8 weeks later where the farm manager returns to check on progress. “From seed to fresh harvest (and beyond), we want to have a presence,” says McNamara. Speaking of harvest, Freight Farms states that growers can successfully grow lettuces, brassicas and herbs.
A growing movement
Today Freight Farms customers come in all forms – institutional food services, campuses, wholesalers, communities and even traditional farmers. Some use their LGM to live more sustainably (i.e. community coop) while others use it to generate income (i.e. wholesaler). In some cases, LGMs have even created micro businesses. McNamara sees a future in which Freight Farm LGMs have created a network of connected farms.
Whatever the use, Freight Farms’ LGM greenhouses are without question producing high quality food yields across the United States and Canada. Freight Farms could just be the next generation of food supply.
Here’s to more green.
Imagery courtesy of Freight Farms