Imagine being able to buy locally-grown produce any time of year wherever you live. That’s the promise of Freight Farms, a Boston-based startup that transforms used shipping containers into eco-friendly, high-yield farms capable of year-round production.
Freight Farms are the brainchild of Brad McNamara and his partner Jonathan Friedman. A Kickstarter campaign in 2011 helped fund the initial prototype. Since then, 18 container farms have been built and sold to customers ranging from traditional farmers to restaurateurs who want to locally grow their own produce.
“It’s fresh, healthy, local food that you can grow anywhere,” says McNamara. “We’re activating spaces and people for positive food production.”
The containers are fitted with hydroponic (soil-free) growing systems and LED lighting, and then connected to sensors and timers that monitor critical growth variables like temperature and humidity. And all of the technology can be controlled by a mobile app, called FarmHand.
McNamara says each 40 foot container can grow between 3,500 and 5,000 plants, ranging from leafy greens and herbs to tomatoes and zucchinis.
“If you look at that compared to a (traditional farm) field, it’s two times more effective growing plants on an annual basis,” he says. “And you’re using 90 percent less water and growing year-round.”
Data from all the company’s farms are stored in a cloud database for analysis and information sharing. McNamara says networking the farms together allows growers to learn from one another about which crops grow best.