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Freight Farms
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Freight Farms

A one acre farm in a box

freightfarms.com ·
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Techstars
local food
Mass Challenge

  • $450k of sales in 3 months
  • A Freight Farm sells for $30-$60k. Qualifies for USDA 1.25% loan.
  • Distributors guarantee purchase of all local produce in Boston.
  • A Freight Farm has a 9 month ROI.

cambridge ma
The Elevator Pitch These shipping containers are outfitted with climate and system controls that allow even the most inexperienced person to become a farmer, anytime, anywhere. Rather then spending millions of dollars shipping produce across the country, they now can be grown right behind the grocery store. There's so much demand for fresh local organics, distributors in Boston guarantee the purchase.

Staff Pick

by Rebecca Searles, Wefunder Correspondent, May 24 2013

The traditional farming and food supply system is broken; most people just don't realize it yet.

Farmers are feeling the pain from low crop yields, costly distribution methods, and monopolizing corporations like Monsanto. Yet customers continue to clamor for "local," "organic," and "all-natural," all year round. Helping farmers and businesses meet demand efficiently and reliably has been close to impossible, until now.

Freight Farms co-founders Brad McNamara and Jonathan Friedman saw the problem and created a unique solution. They developed a commercial, no-soil system that transforms shipping containers into scalable, high-yield farms. The result is picture-perfect produce, created organically, locally, and efficiently.

"It's very difficult to make supply consistent," Friedman said. "The price jacks up in the winter time, and the quality will go extremely down. But we found that there was a better way to get production into the hands of people who wanted it the most — whether it was small business owners, or wholesale distributors — all while improving the quality."

How It Works

Certain crops only grow well in certain seasons. Even then, there are only certain times of day where sunlight is optimal for plant growth. But what if you could remove all of this seasonal and climate variability?

Using highly-advanced climate technology, Freight Farms units insulate plants from the outside world and provide a precisely-controlled environment for plants to thrive.

"What we've done is take the environment out of the picture," Friedman said. "No matter if you're in New England or the Middle East, the climate inside [the unit] is going to be exactly the same — it's the perfect day of summer, all year long."

Design To A T

Nearly every detail of a plant's needs are accounted for and controllable in the design of Freight Farms. The motto is simple: Everything the plant needs, nothing it doesn't.

We have a customer that spends over $1.2M a year shipping food from California, just to get the trucks from California to Boston... We're eliminating that cost right out of the gate.
- Brad McNamara, Cofounder & CEO

Take for instance the units' use of red LED lights in place of sunlight. LEDs don't put off heat, allowing for greater temperature control, and they provide plants with the only spectrum of light they need.

Even the plants' nutrient-uptake is highly controlled. Freight Farms are hydroponic systems, meaning there's no soil used and nutrients are delivered straight to the root through a stream of water.

"We take the minerals and nutrients that you'd find in soil, and we scrap everything else," Friedman said. "There's no pesticides, herbicides or any element other than the exact nutrients that our plants need. We remove the clutter."

"From the nutrient compounds that go in the water, all the way down to the LED lights...We're trying to make best use of all the components, and create the most efficient process."

Bigger, Faster, Fresher

The process is a win-win on all fronts — it's more efficient for the plants, the environment, and the grower.

"The plant is putting the majority of its energy searching down into the soil for water and minerals," Friedman said. "With our systems, the plants don't have to work so hard."

When the plants don't have to work so hard to find the essentials, they can devote their energy to growing bigger, faster, and healthier.

"It's not a miracle grow, it's just direct to the source. So you get the full experience, uninterrupted, in a shorter time. That's the difference," Friedman said.

Making The World A Better Place

It may seem ambitious, but Friedman isn't afraid to look at Freight Farms in context of the big picture. There's a global food crisis, and this technology has the power to help.

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Brad holding some fresh basil grown in a Freight Farm.
The Freight Farm team in front of their first container.

With Freight Farms, food is accessible in environments where farming has never been possible before. And the system lends itself to commercial-scale growing for a variety of users — foodservice providers, schools, restaurants, farmers, grocery stores, disaster relief efforts, and even developing communities.

Hearing stories from farmers and businesses in need keeps the Freight Farms team motivated.

"It's the emails from a farmer saying ‘We just got crushed [with low crop yield] this past season, and I don't have a business anymore,' or ‘Monsanto seeds blew in from a neighboring field and now I'm sowing Monsanto seeds, and I didn't even realize it.'" Friedman said. "That's a huge problem. We can see that they're really hurting, and telling us ‘I need this.'"

Another client from Japan couldn't grow food in the farmland 30 km outside of Tokyo because the run-off waters were so radioactive.

"Hearing these stories, we quickly saw there's a huge opportunity to help people stabilize their business," Friedman said. "It's fulfilling that we can do that."

One acre of crops in 320 square feet

Freight Farms retrofits shipping containers with LEDS, climate controls, and hydroponics, turning them into "leafy green machines" capable of producing 900 plants per week.

Hydroponic Racks

After sprouting, plants grow in vertical racks. No soil is needed. Water from a 330 gallon reservour drips all nutrients directly over the plant roots.
Growing Station

Seeds, encased in rock wool, sprout on the shelves of a growing station.
Remote Monitoring

Each container comes with an iPad that displays a live feed from a set of cameras, plus readings of moisture and nutrient levels, which can be adjusted remotedly.
Climate Control System

Each container has a thermostat, air conditioner, carbon dioxide vent, fans, and a dehumidifier that recycles water.
LEDs Simulate Day & Night

Strips of LED bulbs beam red and blue lights optimized for growing plants year round. They run on timers to simulate day and night.

Meet the Founders

Jon Friedman
COO, Co-Founder
Portrait_jon
…people from Japan saying, the ground is still radioactive here, we need help. Hearing that just inspired us to not stop until we get it done.
Brad McNamara
CEO, Co-Founder
Portrait_brad
“We have a customer that spends over $1.2M a year shipping food from California, just to get the trucks from California to Boston... We're eliminating that cost right out of the gate.”

We've raised $695,000 from investors including

Round 1
$695,000
September 2013
Owen Gunden
Srinivas Panguluri
Tucker Max
Dan Sutera
Benjamin Baller
Jay McCarthy
Michael Segal
Sanjay Vora
Josh Peck
Warren Katz
Z. Ed Lateef
Joseph Ashear
Joe Lombardo

What People Say

Freight Farms sees right climate for growth
July 5, 2013
If Boston-based Freight Farms has its way, shipping containers could be the preferred vehicle of the future for fresh food production.
Grow Produce Anywhere In Freight Farms' $60,000 Shipping Container
June 27, 2013
If you like eating locally-sourced produce in the middle of the winter, you’re out of luck. But a pair of Massachusetts entrepreneurs makes a modified shipping container that lets distributors grow, say, local basil in the middle of January. Is their start-up a good investment?
100 Brilliant Companies: The Company Leading the Future of Farming
May 23, 2013
Freight Farms upcycles shipping containers into stackable modular mini-farms, reducing the footprint required for growing crops and allowing for locally grown produce in urban areas.
A One-Acre Farm in a 320 Square-Foot- Box
March 14, 2013
Imagine a restaurant in downtown Minneaplois could grow it's own produce year round. That's now possible, thanks to Freight Farms of Boston…
Firms plant hopes on urban garden space
July 1, 2012
Freight Farms, is one of several seeking to bring food production into the heart of the city, to parking lots and rooftops. While a handful of Boston-area restaurants already use their roofs to grow some of what they serve, these companies plan to lease space to operate at a commercial scale, selling to distributors, restaurants, and consumers.

Questions & Answers

WF: Why this idea? How did you guys start?

In 2010 we began researching urban agriculture and consulted for green-roof / rooftop greenhouse projects. Though this we saw a greater opportunity to disrupt a broken food system. Soon after, we raised ~$30,000 from 479 backers on Kickstarter to build our first prototype. Thanks to this funding, in 2012, we delivered the first Freight Farm in production to Clark University in Worcester MA. 

WF: Are there different kinds of Freight Farms?

Right now, we have the Leafy Green Machine on the market, which is great for growing produce like basil, lettuce, kale, chard and most types of leafy green crops. We have the "Vine Veggie" and the "Fresh Fungi Factory" in development, and expect to have them in production by the end of the year.

WF: How much revenue have you booked?

We started selling the "Leafy Green Machine" in early 2013. In the past 3 months, we've booked $450,000 in sales with an average selling price of $56,250. Prices varies from $30-$60k depending on location and configuration, such as security, networking capabilities and workspace options.

WF: Who are your customers?

Our primary customers are fresh food distributors, but we sell to a broad spectrum of customers including farmers, local food entrepreneurs, restaurants and institutions. Some of our customers include Katsiroubas Brothers Fruit & Produce, Tasty Burger, and Localize

WF: What is your sales strategy? How will you expand?

We have a relationship with a national food distributors buying group and are going to expand through that channel. We're currently hiring a small salesforce and actively recruiting an experienced VP of sales to build out the larger team over the next 12 months. However, our best salespeople so far have been our customers and will continue to drive rapid growth. Our inbound sales traffic has been overwhelming and has opened the door for us to center sales teams around industry leaders.

WF: How certain are you that there will be demand for the produce?

In our first market of Boston, a fresh food distributor has committed to buying all the produce generated by up to 15 more farms to start. Their romaine lettuce demand alone would support 125 freight farms. We have seen similar demand in other markets around the country including St.Louis and Minneapolis.

WF: How big can this company be?

The demand for consistent fresh food production is huge and growing. This is over a billion dollar company. Our initial target market is a $840 million domestic food distributor market. Once we own that, we'll next focus on the Grocery and Contracted Foodservice markets.

WF: How will you handle quality control as you scale?

We've already been through the process of bringing two manufacturing partner locations online and have established a manufacturing partnership that allows us to replicate the process we've developed while maintaining quality. Our ability to monitor the farms remotely will allow us to assist our customers as needed and actually improve quality as we grow and collect more data on performance.

WF: Who are your competitors? Why are you better?

Some competitors include Podponics and Growtainer. We're the first to fully integrate the latest in hydroponic, LED, digital control automation together in a user friendly product that's designed to make anyone a successful farmer. 

WF: What do you understand about your business that others just don't get?

We understand that business is the driver of change especially in a global system like food. In order to disrupt such massive system we need to provide a platform with the tools to allow millions of different people to be successful. We make it dead simple to be a farmer. We know how make "local" the most profitable solution for food economics.

WF: Who builds a Freight Farm? How long does it take?

We partner with regional container modification companies that implement the Freight Farms design. This allows us to avoid the high cost of shipping our finished product long distances, and deliver it to customers faster. Our current lead time is 6-8 weeks.

WF: How does a Freight Farm have an ROI of 9 months?

A Freight Farm can produce 900 plants per week. If you are growing organic basil in Boston, those 900 plants are expected to earn ~$75,000 at wholesale pricing over the course of year. After deducting operating costs, it'll be about 9 months to recoup your investment, assuming you purchased a Freight Farm for ~$50,000.

WF: What is your gross margin?

Approximately 50%.

WF: What milestones will this funding get you to?

Funding will get us through 12-18 months. We'll round out the hiring with a VP sales, VP manufacturing, and head of customer support. We plan to sell 30 Freight Farms by the end of the year and have partnership agreements in 4 target market cites.

WF: How can customers finance a Freight Farm?

Freight Farms qualify for the USDA's new small farm microloan program which provides a $35,000 loan at repayment terms of up to seven years and a 1.25% interest rate. Our customers also qualify for a Direct Farm Operating Loan, with a maximum loan amount of $300,000. There is no down payment requirement for either of these loans. With expected revenue from the Freight Farm, customers can pay back the loan in under a year.

WF: What are the operating costs for a Freight Farm?

Approximately $12,000 per year. This covers growing supplies, electricity, water, and labor.

WF: Why are you guys a great team?

We've worked together for over 5 years. First as part of a marketing company that Brad started, then with our rooftop greenhouse consulting business, and now with Freight Farms. Working together across all of those different businesses we've learned how to be an extremely effective team, how to get the most out of each other, and how to effectively split up responsibilities.

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