Good Thinking

When is a shipping container not a shipping container? When it's a farm

When is a shipping container n...
Freight Farms is one of a number of companies offering shipping containers set up as self-contained farms
Freight Farms is one of a number of companies offering shipping containers set up as self-contained farms
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Freight Farms is one of a number of companies offering shipping containers set up as self-contained farms
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Freight Farms is one of a number of companies offering shipping containers set up as self-contained farms
Freight Farms uses a vertical hydroponics system
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Freight Farms uses a vertical hydroponics system
Cropbox is another company offering shipping container farms
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Cropbox is another company offering shipping container farms
Cropbox says each of its containers can support up to 3,000 plants
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Cropbox says each of its containers can support up to 3,000 plants
Freight Farms and Cropbox both provide a mobile app from which the environments of their containers can be controlled
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Freight Farms and Cropbox both provide a mobile app from which the environments of their containers can be controlled

Ensuring that the food we eat is locally and sustainably grown is not always easy, especially in cities where crop-growing space is at a premium. Firms like Freight Farms and Cropbox, however, have a solution to this problem. They offer shipping containers that are kitted out as self-contained farms.

We've already seen the humble shipping container reappropriated for all sorts of different uses, including as part of an inner city farm concept. Freight Farms and Cropbox actually deliver that concept, albeit more practically and one container at a time.

The containers offered by both companies feature hydroponic technology, which employs a mineral-based solution in which to grow crops rather than soil. This means that the quality of the produce is not affected by prevailing weather conditions and that the conditions can be precisely tailored.

According to Cropbox, such systems use up to 90 percent less water than traditional growing methods. Both firms offer LED lighting in their containers too, which also compares favorably to other lighting methods. Overall, Freight Farms says each one of its containers takes 30,000 kWh of electricity annually to run.

Cropbox says each of its containers can support up to 3,000 plants
Cropbox says each of its containers can support up to 3,000 plants

Freight Farms and Cropbox both provide a mobile app from which the environments of their containers can be controlled. Factors such as water, air quality and temperature can be monitored and adjusted from a smartphone.

The Freight Farms containers have designated spaces for different stages of plant growth, including a seedling and germination area for 2,500 plants, and 256 vertical towers for the growth of over 4,500 mature plants. Cropbox, meanwhile, says each of its containers can support up to 3,000 plants.

Customers can take on just one container if they wish, but one of the benefits of shipping containers is that they can be stacked. This means that its possible to create a very high density and high yield farms of stacked containers.

Freight Farms has been operating since 2010, but is currently rolling out an updated model of its shipping container. They start at US$76,000 to purchase with financing options available. The Cropbox was newly announced by its parent company Williamson Greenhouses in January. Each one is available to purchase from $49,347 or to lease for a monthly price of $999.

Sources: Freight Farms, Cropbox

12 comments
LikelyLad
Unfortunately, at those prices, the return would have to be considerable to justify the initial outlay of $50,000 and the £3,000 (in Britain) electricity costs! What crop would pay that return and a profit as well? Oh, yes, cannabis. Seriously, if you rented, then that's £671 rent per month, and £250 electricity costs (per month!). Add on £2,079 per month profit required and you have a monthly cost of £3,000. Seriously, what crop will pay that? You would have to find one that would pay £1 per plant - to the farmer!
mhpr262
Thre must be more money in salad than I suspected - $1000 per month per container plus 2,500kwh of electricity plus the cost of water and nutrient is a LOT of overhead to be earned back with some leafy veg ... and we are not even talking profit here ...
VirtualGathis
@LikelyLad - I'm not sure what the growth capacity of the units are so it's hard to say what the income would be. I have watched hydroponics for some time. In a discussion on vertical farms they were discussing the viability of converting an unused building into a vertical farm and discussed $6/head of high end lettuce in New York NY. The farmer sells directly to the restaurants that use the lettuce, not to the normal distribution network that involves five layers of markups before the consumer see the produce. So to break even with your numbers the farm would only need to produce 750 heads or so. If the restaurant were to lease the unit and grow their own they could save significantly over that $6/head figure. So while challenging it is not an impossible target for an urban farm, but probably useless for a rural farmer.
Michael Flower
Great Idea, especially in Remote Regions. Like the Above and on the Arctic Circle and Antarctic Research Stations...
Dan Lewis
Just KEEP ANIMALS OUT of the plan. I don't want to hear of thousands of chickens being crammed into one of those.
hdm
reminds me of clandestine labs that were mobile for growing weed. how interesting they are now mainstream.
Buellrider
Why wouldn't somebody just copy this whole thing and build it themselves? By the way, a shipping container gets pretty warm inside if out in the direct sun.
LikelyLad
VirtualGathis: I love the idea, it's just that it appears to me that the economics make little sense. I could see it working with a high-yield fruit, like strawberries, and Cropbox are due to produce just such a unit. But, like you say, more suited to restaurants (maybe) or something like Gourmet Garlic, where the yield price is high. Here in Britain, we are seeing many farms being converted from crops to solar farms. We have 65 million people here, and land space is limited (though you wouldn't think so, given our immigration policy!). Maybe vertical farming is the way.
Bob Flint
Even regular trucks, (lorries) have translucent roofs to help with the lighting why not here to aid in growth instead of just LED's? BTW who & how is the water, power handled? These aren't autonomous, since someone has to harvest the proceeds.
Thane36425
Don't forget labor costs. The plants and all that equipment aren't going to tend themselves. Even if the owner did all the work by themselves, they still need to pay themselves. Certainly there will also be various building codes, land use permits, and other sundry taxes and fees to consider. Transporting the produce to market or the restaurants also needs to be accounted for. It is possible to buy greenhouses with the same capacity for much less. The hydroponic gear would still cost a pretty penny, unless one went with raised beds or the like. LEDs wouldn't be strictly necessary either, though they could be installed for use on cloudy days and could get run to extent the growing time after dark, but that would still cost less than running them all the time.