Can You Grow Crops Inside Shipping Containers?
If you are asking the same question, then the answer is yes. It is possible to build a decent “farmland” in a converted freight container.
Brian Harris is an engineer by profession and had little experience in farming and gardening. Yet he invested $90,000 in container farming and established Green Collar Farms, a “hydroponic vertical micro farm” inside of a green and white re-purposed shipping container parked in a vacant lot on lower west side district of Grand Rapids, MI.
“I’m fascinated with process and solving problems,” said Harris, who became fascinated after a friend gave him some literature on growing vegetables indoors.
“The challenge was, how do you do this indoor gardening and I could not be denied.”
Harris said he experimented with hydroponics and indoor gardening in his home’s basement for several years before he got serious and bought his 350-square foot container as pilot ground for his new endeavor.
Vertical trays of plants were placed in the container, which used to function as refrigerated vessel for international cargo. Fertilized water flows through the foam in which the plants are held while ribbons of LED lamps offer just the right blend of blue and red rays to feed the plants.
Such arrangement has since yielded bumper harvest for crops like kale, arugula, bibb, butterhead, deer tongue, mustard, pak choi and spinach. Harris attributes a stress-free environment for the better taste and more consistent growth of plants compared to those of traditionally grown ones. Inside the container, Harris can control the temperature, humidity and amount of light exposure. The controls can be made directly from his home or cellphone.
Harris germinates the plants himself from pelletized seeds he places inside water-absorbent seed plugs made of coconut husks. Placed under lights on trays, the seeds germinate within a week before they are transplanted into the vertical trays.
The controlled environment means he does not have to treat the plans with herbicides, pesticides or fungicides. He uses just 5 percent of the water a traditional soil farmer would consume. And because of controlled environnment inside the container, crops can be raised year-round regardless of weather conditions outside.
The container, which houses white vertical trays in which he places seedlings, produces as many plants as a dirt-based farm would produce on 1.5 to 2 acres, Harris said. He estimates he will be able to produce crops on a six-week cycle.
Harris said container farming is being duplicated around the world as growers use “controlled environment agriculture,” or CEA, to combat weather conditions that include desert heat, frozen climates, drought and flooding.
As his first crops reach maturity, Harris is scouting for restaurants and grocers who want to stock his hyper-local and super-fresh crops.