Container farms. They’re exactly what they sound like. Farms… In storage containers. But how exactly do they work? And what are their benefits? Well, let's take a look.
What are Container Farms?
Container farms are modern, sustainable alternatives to traditional farming. They use hydroponics to provide the optimal environment for growing food. Their design means that food can be grown much quicker. As well as using less space than with regular farming methods. One 150sqft container can grow up to 2 acres worth of food.
How do Container Farms Work?
Container farms use hydroponics, to grow food in optimal conditions. This means that food grows faster and to a better quality than with standard growth methods.
What is Hydroponics?
Hydroponics is a way of growing plants without using soil. All the nutrients that the plants need are in a water solution. This comes into direct contact with the plants' roots, making it easier for the plants to find what they need.
There are many different hydroponics methods, all suited to different kinds of purposes. But the general principle is the same. Seeds are first planted in soil and exposed to LED lighting until they start to sprout. The sprouted plants are then placed in a hydroponics system. Here the plant roots are either sprayed with or dipped into a solution. This contains all the minerals the plants need to grow.
You may be wondering if this is at all effective (it is!) and also…
What makes Container farming so great?
Well, let’s take a look…
It reduces the ecological footprint of farming:
Efficient Food Production - Hydroponics allows produce to be grown twice as fast as with traditional farming. This means it uses less resources over less time.
Less land used - Freight farms reduce the amount of space required for crops to grow. A single freight farm can grow roughly as much food as with a traditional farm, but with a quarter of the space.
Uses less resources - Freight farms allow for food to be grown as efficient as is possible. This means that growing produce uses less resources than with traditional farms.
Reduces emissions from shipping - The design of shipping containers means that they are portable. This lets them be closer to places that will consume more produce. This could be near to schools or workplaces to provide for the cafeteria or near restaurants. This means the food has less distance to travel to reach consumers’ plates.
Can help communities in need, anywhere in the world - Shipping containers are easy to transport around the world due to their design. This means they can go to areas that need them, such as places experiencing food droughts. As well as providing food, it also keeps economic stability by keeping import costs low.
So why isn’t hydroponics at the forefront of farming?
Container farming seems almost too good to be true. But traditional farming methods still reign supreme. If it’s so great then why is it so unheard of?
Requires immediate investment - Although it saves money over time, upfront equipment costs are hefty. This can put many prospective first time farmers off.
Potential power failure - Though usually minimal, the risk of power failure can dissuade many. Crops rely on pumps to move the solution around and provide them oxygen. A power failure would cause these pumps to stop working, resulting in a ruined harvest.
Its scientific image puts people off - The name ‘hydroponics’ can make people imagine a very scientific method of farming. Complete with fancy lab coats.
A world apart from regular farming, right? Wrong!
This image couldn’t be further from the truth. Traditional and hydroponic methods have the same aims. Both need to ensure that plants get everything they need to thrive. The only difference is that Container farms skip the soil.
It’s best to keep in mind that commercial container farming is still relatively new (less than a decade old!). So there are likely a lot more developments lined up to make it even better and more efficient.
So can storage units be the future of food? We’ll have to wait and see.