See Inside This Vertical Farm Where 65,000 Pounds of Lettuce Grow Each Year in Shipping Containers
Los Angeles-based Local Roots' three farms are no ordinary farms. They're not even outside — but inside three small shipping containers.
The startup uses vertical hydroponic farming, a method where plants grow year-round with LEDs rather than natural sunlight. Instead of soil, the seeds lie on trays with nutrient-rich water, stacked from the floor to the ceilings inside the shipping containers. The containers live inside Local Roots' warehouse in California.
Local Roots' farms save both land and water, Director of Social Enterprise Allison Towle tells Business Insider. Each 320-square-foot shipping container produces the same amount of plants as four acres of traditional farmland — using 97% less water on average.
The farms' trays also constantly track the greens' growing parameters in real-time, like temperature and levels of oxygen and CO2. The startup then uses machine learning to analyze that data and improve the growing process.
Compared to the average growth cycle of lettuce that requires harvesting, storing, and transportation, Towle says Local Roots' process use about 45% less energy than traditional farming.
But like most vertical farms, it still soaks up a significant amount of electricity to power its LEDs. Local Roots' farms consume 205 kWh of power per day, which is equivalent to nearly seven times the daily energy consumption of the average American household. It's currently exploring options that are more carbon-neutral than the traditional power grid, like solar power.
Local Roots grows 50,000 pounds of butterhead lettuce and 15,000 pounds of baby kale and spring mix per year, Towle says. For now, the greens are only available to buy at select fast-casual restaurants and markets in LA.
By Leanna Garfield