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SUMMARY
Startup of the Week

Freight Farms

Taking local food global.

video
successfully funded
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.

  • Allows high-volume food production in any environment
  • Quick ramp time with fully automated system
  • Easily scale operations to reach demand
  • Stimulates local economy & brings stability to food industry

Startup of the Week
  May 2013

Why We Like Freight Farms: This company transforms old shipping containers into farms that are dead simple to operate – just hook up a water hose and plant some seeds. We love them because there's a hefty demand for local organics… and why should a grocery store spend $1.2M a year shipping produce across the country, when they could be plucked from the parking lot?

Product

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.
Startups Take a Shine to Urban Agriculture; Can They Reward Investors?
August 13, 2014
"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.”'
It's a Box... It's a Farm!
July 21, 2014
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.
Freight Farms Sprouts a Smarter Food Supply System
July 21, 2014
"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."
Moving Commercial Farming To Boston Rooftops
July 2, 2014
"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."
Farms In A Box: Boston Businesses Grow Produce In Shipping Containers
June 30, 2014
“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.
Freight Farms engineered a way to grow food — without soil or sun — that’s actually inside a box.
June 13, 2014
"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 Power of Ideas: The Taste Makers
May 16, 2014
"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."
Freight Farms: Sustainable, Local Farms Without the Farmer Tan
May 14, 2014
"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."
8 Weird Startups Getting Traction
March 11, 2014
"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."
Meet the smart farm you can control with a smartphone
February 21, 2014
"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."
Freight Farms raises $1.2 million for greenhouses built in old shipping containers
December 9, 2013
"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."
Inside Food Technology: Freight Farms Thinks Big
November 5, 2013
"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."
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. The startup, founded in 2010, has repurposed standard shipping containers into hydroponic laboratories that can be installed anywhere."
FARMING INSIDE THE BOX
July 1, 2013
"“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.”
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.

Meet the Founders

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."

Brad McNamara
CEO, Co-Founder
Jon Friedman
President, Co-Founder

--- and the rest of the team ---

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Caroline Katsiroubas
Community Manager
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Heather Onstott
CFO
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Phil Cuddeback
Farm Manager
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Dan Marino
Head of Operations
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Grace Wu
Designer
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Luciana Almeida
Special Projects
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Hannah Dziura
Account Specialist
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Kyle Seaman
Director of Farm Technology

We've raised $695,000
from 17 investors

Round 1
$695,000
September 2013

Interview

Interviewed by Wefunder on May 24, 2013

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?

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.

WF: How much revenue have you booked?

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.

WF: Who are your customers?

We sell to a broad spectrum of customers including new food entrepreneurs, fresh food distributors, farmers, restaurants and institutions. Some of our customers include Katsiroubas Brothers Fruit & Produce, Corner Stalk, Local Sprout, 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 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.

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: 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: 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.

WF: What's new about what you're making? How is it different?


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