YES, YOU CAN NOW FARM IN A SHIPPING CONTAINER!
The seemingly modern practice of hydroponics – i.e. growing plants without the use of soil – was actually first recorded almost two thousand years ago in the Roman Empire. Fast-forward to Indianapolis 2017 and we find a team of young American entrepreneurs has embraced the system in a new and exciting way.
Intensive Farming Inside Steel Shipping Containers
It may seem unlikely but Chris Moorman, a former Wall Street commodities trader, chanced upon crops being grown in decommissioned Conex boxes whilst travelling on an educational outreach mission in South Africa. There are no accurate records of how many disused shipping containers are scattered around the world but it’s probably in the tens of millions, ensuring there is no shortage of spare boxes at bargain prices for those looking to adapt them into business premises, be it a bar, boutique, office space or farm.
The non-farming backgrounds of the team behind economics graduate, Moorman’s, Greenfield-based company, Rubicon Agriculture, makes the venture still more surprising. They include his brother, Erik, a former nuclear engineer who had a career with the US Navy, plus two friends who worked in manufacturing automation technology and have degrees in electrical engineering. Not a shred of agricultural experience between them, yet clearly, they share an ability to think outside the box and possess the transferable skills to make hydroponic growing systems work efficiently.
A Cost-Effective Alternative to Greenhouse Methods
The inherent portability of shipping containers means they are more likely to be granted permits by planning officers than static and permanent greenhouses. Projected yields are high, with a decommissioned, 40-foot refrigerated container (roughly the footprint of six car parking slots) able to produce as many vegetables as a traditional acre of farmland, thanks to high-tech, LED lighting, watering and nutrition systems, developed by the smart and innovative technical team at Rubicon.
A fully-equipped and self-contained unit, containing all you need to start a lucrative business, is termed an AgroBox, and weighs in at $75,000. There’s also a high-yield version available at $82,000. With no concerns around drought and flood, growing happens 24/7, 365 days a year and results are pretty much guaranteed. Refrigerated shipping containers offer a fine degree of control, thanks to Rubicon’s proprietary Integrated Control Suite which includes inbuilt data collection and even predictive analytics. CO2 levels, pH balance, light, humidity and temperature can all be monitored and adjusted. Nothing is left to chance!
Keeping it Local
One of the aims of Rubicon is to drive localism – food grown for the neighbourhood by a cultivator based right on the doorstep. No more costly and environmentally unfriendly ‘food miles’. The Eat Local movement is going from strength to strength and refrigerated shipping container farms are very much part of the sustainable future.
Rubicon even have a modular, Living Learning Lab, which they call ‘L3’, where students can practice their hydroponics skills in a controlled environment and learn the techniques needed to establish and maintain a profitable business, supplying vegetables and herbs to the community. The flexibility of the system means they can also respond to local demand for specific crops from restaurants and other customers.