HOW A FARM-IN-A-BOX MAKES SUSTAINABILITY POSSIBLE

Hydroponic farm manager shares successes of shipping container farm

Most Maryville University students had no idea, fall semester of 2017, that something historic was about to happen on their campus.

The Maryville Freight Farm, operated by Fresh Ideas, landed on campus in September 2017 as the first and only Freight Farm in the state of Missouri. Since then, it’s produced hundreds of pounds of fresh produce, supported 5 internships, and has brought lectures on sustainable food to campus.

I met Linda Thacker (head of Maryville’s Dining Services) in 2012 when I ran the Green Dining Alliance. I was her sustainability auditor and consultant. When she reached out to me to launch the Freight Farm, I was thrilled. An opportunity to learn about hydroponic farm management, and involve me in an educational setting, was beyond exciting!

The farm is a vertical hydroponic operation, inside a refurbished container. In just a 40’x8’ space, we can grow the same yields as 1.5 acres of land — but year-round, unaffected by weather or outdoor pests, and with 90% less water. Interns and I plant, transplant, and harvest every week, and there is thorough and regular maintenance for keeping the farm clean and healthy. When we keep our microclimate stable, the plants can really thrive. And with airflow, cooling, and the regular maintenance I mentioned, we can stick to non-toxic cleaners instead of toxic pesticides and fungicides.

The internships I’ve developed not only offer course credit alongside training in a fast-growing sector, but the farm’s unique Summer Internship Program includes a 3-week practicum where students run the farms themselves after 2 months of rigorous training. No one else in the region offers this kind of experience for fresh graduates!

Looking to the future, Maryville students may be inspired to create more sustainable farming practices for their campus to accompany the farm. I give guest lectures on campus about twice a semester, focusing on sustainable agriculture and food justice. Biology majors use the farm for research and classwork. I’ve suggested to student sustainability groups that the school could start its own composting system, and use the “compost tea” for the lettuces’ nutrient needs! Bringing a project like this to a college or university camps creates endless possibilities.

We need solutions for feeding the world nutritious, safe food, saving water and energy in the process. Indoor vertical farming is vital in this endeavor, and hydroponics have enormous water-saving, pesticide reduction, and space-saving benefits. Plus, in this St. Louis suburb, the Maryville Freight Farm is often folks’ first exposure to putting sustainability into practice. More and more people want to connect with their food. They want to see where it comes from and want an environmentally balanced world where food simple and good — not complicated. The farm-in-a-box, sometimes referred to as the Leafy Green Machine, is a place the campus community can actually visit first-hand. It’s an inspiring step toward sustainable food service, and one you won’t find anywhere else in the state.

If you would like to learn more about how Fresh Ideas can make an impact at your dining facilities, they encourage you to reach out and introduce yourself today.

You may also like: Farm to fork sustainability partnership pops up

You may also like: Our Leafy Green Machine Production Manager, Olivia Engel, is interviewed on the Freight Farms blog