Taking local food global.
Funded on Sep 22 2013
Freight Farms manufactures fully-operational hydroponic farms from upcycled freight containers. Using advanced growing technologies and human-centered design principles, we provide individuals of all skill levels with the infrastructure to immediately begin producing a high-volume of locally grown food.
Freight Farms retrofits shipping containers with LEDS, climate controls, and hydroponics, turning them into "leafy green machines" capable of producing 900 plants per week.
"Once they looked into how the industrial agriculture industry works, they thought they could make a difference by enabling more locally grown, organic food. “It was a problem that grew on us. We fell in love with the idea of solving it,” Friedman says. “We wanted to make urban agriculture a viable industry that could scale.”'
With seventeen farms on the ground and an expected twenty by the end of the summer, Freight Farms is growing into bigger and better things. They anticipate pairing up with more schools and universities to develop interdisciplinary curriculum focused on the LGM.
"Imagine picking fresh kale smack dab in the middle of Boston in the dead of winter. For Freight Farm customers, this is a reality; the best herbs, lettuce, and brassica variety leafy greens are always at their fingertips."
"It’s made up of four green and white shipping containers – the same kind you see pulled by semi-trucks on highways across the country. The containers were transformed into small hydroponic farms using vertical planting towers, drip irrigation, and L.E.D. grow lights."
“The key is plant density and plant efficiency, the efficient use of light water and space all together,” McNamara said. From basil to peppers, lettuce and kale, they are thriving in this tight space. It’s the future for city farmers or anyone looking to get fresh local produce way off the farm.
"Local, organic farming is very trendy. But it’s not easy in urban environments — or any place that has a real winter. Boston startup Freight Farms was thinking outside the box when it came up a solution. It engineered a way to grow food — without soil or sun — that’s actually inside a box. The company “upcycles” used shipping containers and turns them into small hydroponic farms. Its first product, the Leafy Green Machine, can grow herb, lettuce, and brassica varieties. The units, which cost $70,000, use nutrient-dense water instead of soil and LED lights in place of the sun."
"The Idea: Making new space to grow food—anywhere. It’s now possible to cultivate a bounty of fresh, local produce miles from the nearest farm—if you have access to a “Leafy Green Machine.” Designed by Friedman and McNamara from “upcycled” shipping containers, Freight Farms come ready-made with high-tech hydroponic equipment suitable for growing leafy veggies and herbs like basil, arugula, and kale in any climate. Freight Farms may have started locally, but its mobile units are now cropping up everywhere from San Antonio, Texas, to Edina, Minnesota."
"When you think of a farm, chances are dirt, tractors, and farmer tans come to mind. Not at Freight Farms though - they use concepts like hydroponics and cubic footage to turn shipping containers into compact, sustainable, local farms."
"If you're a food wholesaler, restaurant, or community farm cooperative, you might want what Boston-based Freight Farms has to offer, especially if you're located somewhere with a limited growing season. Co-founders Jon Friedman and Brad McNamara had the brilliant idea of repurposing shipping containers into farming systems outfitted with all the equipment and environmental controls necessary to grow food year round."
"A Freight Farm is more than just a garden in a box. Each 325 square-foot unit comes equipped with high-efficiency red and blue LEDs to simulate night and day, a climate-controlled temperature system for optimal growth conditions, and vertical growing troughs. Translation: Farmers can enjoy a year-round growing season regardless of weather. Freight Farms are also sealable (no need for pesticides and herbicides), stackable, and (because of their closed loop hydroponic system) use 90 percent less water than conventional farming. And the fun part: Growth settings can even be controlled by a smartphone app."
"Often companies that go through accelerator programs are accused of not being ambitious enough. Investors kvetch that that the startup ideas offered are “incremental” or “unoriginal.” That knock does not apply to Freight Farms, a startup which retrofits recycled shipping containers into modular mini-farms. The company graduated from Techstars Boston this Spring. Today, Freight Farms announced it has raised a Series A round of funding worth $1.2 million. Morningstar Venture Investments Limited led the round with Launch Capital and Rothenberg Ventures participating."
"For this "Inside Food Tech" series, I’m sitting down with some of the individuals, startups, and researchers who are doing ground-breaking work in food technology and making real inroads. Recently, I talked with Jon Friedman and Brad McNamara, the co-founders of Freight Farms, a startup that offers a hydroponic growing system in the form of a shipping container. The founders conceived the containers as a business platform for local food production anywhere. The call it Farming-As-A-Service. The entire system can be digitally monitored and controlled from a smartphone to ensure optimal conditions."
"If Boston-based Freight Farms has its way, shipping containers could be the preferred vehicle of the future for fresh food production. The startup, founded in 2010, has repurposed standard shipping containers into hydroponic laboratories that can be installed anywhere."
"“We’re not your typical agriculture company,” explains McNamara, “nor are we a typical tech company or a business platform company. A couple of years ago I jokingly said we’re an agtech company; now it’s emerged as a category. We get calls from investors looking to get into agtech.”
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?
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.
Imagine a restaurant in downtown Minneaplois could grow it's own produce year round. That's now possible, thanks to Freight Farms of Boston…
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.
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."
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."
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.
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."
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.
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.
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."
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.
We currently sell the Leafy Green Machine, which is great for growing produce like basil, lettuce, kale, chard, most types of leafy greens but can also grow cucumbers, peppers and a variety of tomatoes.
We started selling the "Leafy Green Machine" in early 2013 for $60k. The 2014 product sells for $76K .
We have shipped 16 units representing .$1M in revenue to customers in 7 US states.
We have a relationship with a national food distributors buying group and are going to expand through that channel. We're currently have 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.