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.
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.
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."