The Container Farm: A New Type of Agriculture
Innovators within the produce industry are breaking the boundaries of food production — by growing crops not in soil, but in recycled shipping containers. This modern twist on farming is designed to bypass some of the challenges and restrictions that farmers traditionally have faced, such as extreme weather, pests and limited growing seasons. By overcoming these limitations, farming operations are capable of producing more food and growing certain crops in regions that otherwise would have had to import them.
A shipping container can be placed anywhere on flat, stable ground with access to power and some water. When refurbished into shipping container farm buildings, this allows farming virtually anywhere – from deserts to urban environments. By growing this food locally, suppliers are able to cut out the long travel distances often necessary to transport these foods to certain markets. Shorter travel distances provide numerous benefits, such as fresher product, reduced transportation costs, less waste and fewer carbon emissions.
Container farms across North America
The use of innovative farming methods also is being pushed in Canada. Grocery retailer Loblaw Companies Ltd. announced plans to spend $150 million more each year with Canadian farmers by 2025. As part of that effort, the company pledged to help farmers implement growing techniques that will enable them to produce fruits and vegetables in Canada that the country has traditionally imported.
A number of companies are growing produce in plant shipping containers through the use of hydroponics and aeroponics — methods of growing plants without the use of soil. Hydroponics uses nutrient-rich water as a substitute for soil, but beyond that, their container farms systems can be quite different. One system is to use five shipping containers, four of which are used for farming and the last is used as a working station where the plants germinate and as a post-harvest station before shipping.
It’s simple to set up systems which protect your crop. Unlike a greenhouse, shipping containers can be completely sealed against changes in weather and protected from pests and insects.
Container farms changing business models
Acquiring a container is just the start: Typically the grower will also need to buy the hardware and software used for these container farms, and perhaps even hire a specialist team to manage the container boxes. With a single supplier like Micro Lab Farms, it’s straightforward to begin and ramp up your food production. 40,000 heads of lettuce can be done with 13 container farms – and in half the time of a traditional soil based farm. And, that’s alongside the benefit of being able to provide 100% trackability of the food chain and bring transparency. This transforms consumer’s lives through education about their food and empowering our communities in knowing where their food comes from .
If you don’t want to specialize in one crop, it’s possible to build a hydroponic “farm in a box,” with everything entirely inside a single 40-foot shipping container. This package is ideal for individual farmers, universities and corporations. How about supplying fresh rarities in areas they can’t be grown in nature? Strawberries in the desert? No problem.
Where next for these farming solutions?
Space is the place! Many suppliers like Micro Lab Farms are looking at ways to optimize water use, air scrubbing recycling and run the power from solar source to take the containers off grid. Both NASA and Elon Musk’s SpaceX are exploring the technology for manned missions to the Moon and Mars. It’s not straightforward – one of the major issues for space-based plant shipping container technology, is gravity. As you move away from gravity, plant development is altered.
But even if you’re not travelling to Mars, we’re working to make sure affordable and clean produce can be available to anyone, anywhere.