Spicy Spotlight | Freight Farms5 min read

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The people of Boston are, and always have been, problem solvers. Something about this city drives innovation and development to create solutions for the world’s most difficult dilemmas. A local AgTech (agricultural technology) company, Freight Farms, might be on the verge of solving a handful of those problems with their signature product:

Farms in boxes.

Lean, Green, Produce Machines

freight farms unit

A Freight Farms Leafy Green Machine in transit.

Image Courtesy of inhabitat.com

Now, “farms in boxes” might be a simplification. But it really isn’t that far from the truth. Freight Farms, founded by Jon Friedman and Brad McNamara, sells “Leafy Green Machines;” they are old shipping units adapted into modular growing spaces. These units are self contained and have everything needed to grow plants right inside, including photosynthesis-optimized lighting and irrigation.

The purpose of the “Leafy Green Machines” is to bring farming to urban spaces. Just one 40′ x 8′ x 9.5′ unit can produce a large number of plants, which opens a world of possibilities. The boxes are extremely mobile too; they can be shipped just like the traditional freight containers they’re made from.

Real, Sustainable Farms

The boxes use a “closed loop hydroponic system,” which distributes nutrient rich water directly to the roots of the crops. This makes sure all the plants get what they need with as little waste as possible. In fact, in a major accomplishment for sustainability, each unit only uses 10 gallons of water per day! This makes the farms even more useful for drought-inflicted areas.

The crops produced by this unit aren’t unnatural either. They grow just like any other plant, but in a more efficient environment. In fact, crops from Leafy Green Machines have been hailed as tasting better and fresher. Many restaurants in the Boston area even utilize produce grown by Freight Farmers.

freight farms produce

Greens grow in one of Freight Farms modular farm units.

Image Courtesy of bluefintechnologypartners.com

Right now the units are best suited for greens, but more could be in store. Farmers have had varying success with carrots and turnips, and are experimenting with strawberries, tomatoes and more. Cabbage, iceberg lettuce, and cannabis are a few of the crops that were not successful in Freight Farms units, but may be possible in the future as the company continues to develop the Leafy Green Machines.

A Mobile Farmhand?

The “Leafy Green Machines,” or LGM’s for short, aren’t the only product Freight Farms has developed. Their companion app, farmhand®, is part of the reason why the boxed farms are so successful. The LGM’s themselves are Wi-Fi hot spots, so data can be transmitted directly to the app over the internet. This means that farmers can check all levels from inside the comfort of their own home, or even when they’re away. Viewable metrics include pH, water quality, temperature, CO2 levels and just about anything else a farmer could need to know.

Parameters can also be set through farmhand®, so that the farmer is notified anytime conditions aren’t within the ideal or preferred range. Conditions are all monitored by the LGM’s advanced climate tracking. The units have built in surveillance too, all of which is accessible through the app. Data, which is logged by the units, is also viewable in farmhand®.

freight farms inside

The inside of a Leafy Green Machine, showing its optimized lighting.

Image Courtesy of therivardreport.com

The app also has a built-in store which can be used to purchase new seeds and more. All products sold through the farmhand® store are individually approved by Freight Farms, so you know they’ll grow well in your modular unit.

With the combination of the all-in-one Leafy Green Machines and the farmhand® app, almost anyone can become a Freight Farmer. In fact, the only physical tasks that really have to be done are planting and harvesting. Everything else is either automated by the unit or can be done via an iPhone equipped with the app.

Freight Farms’ Fruitful Future

The company is off to a great start, with $12.21 million raised from investors and even more taking note. Kimbal Musk, brother of Tesla CEO Elon, uses LGM’s for his company Square Roots. Square Roots aims to bring sustainable, freight box farming to Brooklyn while creating a community for the farmers and selling packages of their produce.

As impressive as this all is, Freight Farms technology has even bigger possibilities in store. The implications of this weather-proof farm are massive. Leafy Green Machines could easily be delivered to urban areas devastated by hunger or famine. Trucks could bring dozens in, and fresh produce would be available to the people.

freight farms umass dartmouth

UMass Dartmouth executive chef Kevin Gibbons in a Leafy Green Machine.

Image Courtesy of dartmouth.villagesoup.com

LGM’s aren’t just for crop production, too. Both the University of Michigan and UMass Dartmouth have started using Freight Farms for sustainable agriculture education programs.

The most intriguing development? NASA has reached out to Freight Farms as a potential model for sustainable farming, possibly on a Mars colony. The space administration gave a Small Business Technology Transfer grant to the Boston company, which will help fund development and research. The modular farms could be on the Red Planet sooner than you think.

So, farms in boxes? This might be something a little more than just that.

Be sure to check out last week’s Spicy Spotlight, the company that’s putting you on a chip!