How Freight Farms is Innovating Urban Farming
When Brad McNamara and Jon Friedman identified a gap in the food landscape, farming in shipping containers hadn’t even crossed their minds.
In 2010, they began to brainstorm ways to address global food insecurity, which is the lack of access to fresh produce. First, they experimented with rooftop greenhouses as their first attempt at developing a scalable and sustainable solution.
However, the production of these rooftop greenhouses was not living up to their vision in this competitive environment. The two sought an unconventional solution that introduced a scalable, modular, and practical innovation. They also wanted to devise a technology that would empower farming in areas not equipped for agriculture by providing the infrastructure and technology to support agriculture anywhere in the world. Thus, Freight Farms was born.
The First Container Farm
By 2012, Brad and Jon had finalized their research on their new idea — a container farm, a growing space built inside of a shipping container — and were ready to share it with the world. Explaining the new concept may have been an uphill task, but the vision was bigger than them. Through a Kickstarter campaign, they raised enough money to build the first prototype — the world’s first container farm — the Leafy Green Machine.
Container farming made sense environmentally and logistically, as it would allow farmers to practice vertical and hydroponic farming in a smaller space while allowing for easier transportation. It piqued the interest of progressive and futuristic entrepreneurs, schools, and companies focused on promoting sustainability.
While the Leafy Green Machine provided the concept and space, it became even more powerful when paired with accompanying software that automated many of the farm processes. The farm automation software, farmhand plays the role of assistant to farmers, helping them monitor and control essential functions remotely.
Essentially, farmhand is an automated system software designed to improve and automate tasks, including:
- Analysis of the past and current growing data
- Business management
- LED grow light timing cycles
- Climate control
- pH balance
- Nutrient dosing
- Management of sensory data
- Webcam connectivity
- Harvest tracking
Farmhand is what elevated the container farm from a powerful piece of technology to a truly useful tool that enabled anyone to grow food.
Customer Support and Experience
With their container farm and farm automation software making it possible for anyone to grow food, Freight Farms was attracting a broader customer base worldwide, especially among major institutions such as universities, nonprofits, and corporations. Now, with this expanded customer base, they needed to support new Freight Farmers, many of whom had no previous farming experience, to farm successfully.
Freight Farms prides themselves on their customer experience. They strive to provide customers with lifetime support starting from the moment they begin conceptualizing their farming project. They start with an intensive two-day training program, called Farm Camp, during which farmers learn all the necessary information and know-how to grow their farms successfully. Freight Farms’ customer support also includes comprehensive growing assistance, technical support and troubleshooting, and advising on crop plans, marketing, business, sales, and more.
The Greenery S
In 2021, Freight Farms introduced their 10th iteration of container farm, paired with an all-new name: the Greenery S. This innovative container farm promotes better yields, improves sustainability, and integrates with IoT-connected automation. It features custom-built powerful and high-efficiency LED panels, maximized growing space, and extremely water-efficient hydroponic systems. These upgrades allow farmers to grow more food at a quicker pace with increased efficiency. The container farms can be stacked atop one another, take up only a 320-square-foot footprint (40′ x 8′ x 9.5′), and fit up to 8,800 seedlings. With adjustable grow rows that maximize growing space while offering a functional workspace, the Greenery S uses approximately 5 gallons of water per day, 99% less than traditional agriculture. Impressively, Freight farmers can grow 2-6 tons of produce annually, the equivalent of 2–4 acres of land.
The Freight Farms Community
Freight Farming is gaining popularity by the day. The innovative idea has taken hold in numerous countries across the globe, including areas where agriculture seemed impossible. There are now Freight Farms in urban New York City and Ho Chi Minh City; dark and cold Sweden and Alaska; desert Cairo, and beyond. Here are just a few of the upstart farmers and nonprofits in the Freight Farms community.
Fare House Farms
A Texas-based daughter-father team that started during the pandemic, Fare House Farms is run by Alex—the farm manager and a former marketer at Adidas, and her father, Rod—who works behind the scenes to keep the farm running. In February 2021, as the state experienced their coldest temperatures in 80 years, shutting down the power grid and destroying crops, Alex and Rod managed to feed community members in need. Because container farms are unaffected by external weather, their crops, including lettuces, herbs, and flowers, survived.
Lotus House is a nonprofit “holistic residential facility and resource center” for homeless women and children. They provide over 500 women and children residents with daycare, employment education, arts programs, a beauty salon, yoga and meditation, and more. With the Greenery, Lotus House engages residents, many of whom previously only had access to highly processed foods, with therapeutic and educational farm programming, as well as provides them with year-round, hyper-local fresh produce.
San Antonio Clubhouse
San Antonio Clubhouse is a nonprofit serving individuals experiencing mental illness through a collection of peer-led support programs. Freight Farming is one of them, serving as a therapeutic farm for mental health.
Members and staff together run the Greenery farm year-round. The individuals they serve contribute to every step of the farming process, including the business, operations, community and client relations, and even culinary sides of the operation. In their farm, they grow lettuce and herbs, including borage, a unique herb with vibrant blue flowers and a taste and flavor similar to cucumber.