Freight Farms Revolutionizing Farm-To-Fork System

Freight Farms Revolutionizing Farm-To-Fork System

By Patrick Lantrip

February 08, 2017

Usually the concept of farm-to-fork is designed to keep locally-grown produce out of shipping containers, but one company is working with local farmers to do just the opposite.

The Leafy Green Machine, developed by Boston-based Freight Farms, is a virtual farm-in-a-box that converts used shipping containers into year-round hydroponic farms, which can be monitored and controlled with your smartphone.

Each unit equates to a two-acre farm in terms of annual production, but is packed into a 40’ x 8’ x 9.5’ space and can be operated year-round regardless of geographic location or climate.

“It provides a pretty cool story thinking about these shipping containers that have previously transported cold goods across the globe and now they’re just in one place growing food,” Caroline Katsiroubas, Freight Farms marketing director said.

When its two founders, Brad McNamara and Jon Friedman, started the company they were originally looking into urban rooftop farming and how to make it economically viable, but after about a year of research, they decided that it was a little bit too cost intensive and time intensive.

The plans were eventually altered for shipping containers and the first prototype was built in 2012.

“Now at this point we have over 100 farms located across the globe,” Katsiroubas said. “A lot of them are small business that have just started and they are selling to their local farmers market, local restaurants or are starting farm stands or CSAs.”

In addition the United States, Freight Farms has operations in Canada, Japan and parts of Europe.

“We’re hoping to be all across the globe soon, because there is a definitely a need from it everywhere,” Katsiroubas said.

However, she noted that the company plans of bring strategic with its growth as not spread itself too thin.

“Our first and foremost priority would be the success of our farmers,” she said.

In Savannah, Ga., Grant Anderson is one such farmer.

Anderson, who was raised by his grandparents in rural Georgia, has been around farming his whole life, but said he never saw it as a viable business model. Since his grandfather owned 90 acres of land and leased most of it out to local farmers, Anderson said he saw many of the farmers’ struggles first-hand.

“I saw what temperamental weather can do to a farmer’s production and their income stream,” Anderson said. “I never really thought it was a stable career path even though it is something that a lot of folks around me did.”

Anderson eventually went to Georgia Tech, and obtained a business degree with the hopes of one day starting his own company.

For six years Anderson worked in finance as an auditor and portfolio manager, before taking a corporate job with Equifax in Atlanta.

However, Anderson said he wasn’t happy with his career trajectory and eventually returned home after the birth of his son and took a job as an administrator with the local board of education.

Once day, Anderson read an article in CNN Money that would change his life about a Boston couple with no agriculture experience who became highly-successful urban farmers through Freight Farms.

“I thought that agriculture is a part of my life even though it’s not something that I actually chose for a career path,” Anderson said. “It just sparked a curiosity.”

Anderson said there were a lot of positives around the idea of local food production and the lack of local food producers.

“The more I looked into it the more interested I became,” he said. “With my background I felt like I could viably operate that business and I also enjoy the hands-on work of growing plants, which I do for my own family over the summer in our backyard.”

Though Anderson has only been container farming for only four months, he is already having success at the local farmer’s market and is now working to build a rapport with local chefs to grow his customer base.

“It’s not something that I think is really popular right out of the gate in South Georgia,” Anderson said. “A lot of people do local dirt farming, so that fact that I am farming is not really a novel idea, but getting people to understand that this is in a shipping container, we can do it year-round and we can grow it vertically up the walls – people are just dumbfounded when they look in these things.”.

Freight Farms converts refurbished shipping containers into hydroponic farms that yield as much produce in a year as two acres of land.  

Brad McNamara and Jon Friedman have helped farmers launch more than 100 container farms across the globe since they built the first Leafy Green Machine prototype in 2012.  

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