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Farm-in-a-box technology benefits farmers
While many companies are taking on the business venture of setting up containerized hydroponic growing, others have been at it for a few years now. An increase too in producing microgreens and lettuces – even flowers - makes the prospect of owning a self-contained agriculture unit appealing for many types of people, not just farmers.
Greens for everyone
Freight Farms began production of its 40-foot cube container, the Leafy Green Machine in 2014. They had a handful of customers to start (about 10), then about 50 the following year. “Half of our customers had never farmed before in their life,” explains Jon Friedman of Freight Farms. “They were either students at university or a mom and pop shop that wanted to get out of their existing business.” Customers are located all over: in the United States, the Caribbean, Canada, Sweden, Dubai and more recently, Vietnam, which he says is actually a clothing company. One customer - Best Fresh Farms - has been easily able to weather the recent bad weather in Georgia, not having to take any safety measures to protect his crops.
Produce – long list of options
The list of possible produce that can be grown in the Leafy Green Machine is extensive, however the goal is to help customers narrow down what they can – or should – grow that will be profitable crops for their particular region. “When people go to farm camp and talk to a team member we’ll help direct them to what crops they’ll get the highest price point based on the food supply and the food chain where they’re located.” For example, he notes that in some areas basil is $40/lb. and in other areas it’s $8/lb. “The list comes in handy for people to adjust to the market trends.” In 2016 most customers were growing head lettuce (and kale) but now Friedman says he observes less similarities between customers and more niche produce being grown, like flowers and radishes. He’s also seen lots of interest in micro greens. The container has a seeding area that customers are using for various applications, not just seedlings.
Farm camp training
Freight Farms encourages all new customers to addend their Farm Camp – especially since the vast majority of customers have no farming background whatsoever. The two-day experience helps people get to know the system and jump right into growing and running their business. The experience also includes planting and harvesting crops.
Monitor from offsite
Monitoring the container remotely via cloud data and a camera feed allows business owners to check how the crops are performing without having to be onsite – which can be beneficial in inclement weather. “People can avoid having to be in the container for no reason,” says Friedman. Farmhand, which is the software used, could also have positive applications in traditional greenhouses. He says they have plans to release the software to conventional farms and greenhouses that are currently running outdated controllers.
Helping customers gain customers
Recently released as a supplement to customers to help them sell their product What’s Good connects buyers with the local Leafy Green Machine farmers. The first question Caroline Katsiroubas of Freight Farms says prospective Leafy Green Machine customers ask is how they’ll acquire customers since they wouldn’t likely have an existing customer base. “It helps connect our customers with their own customers,” she says. She says customers are encouraged to visit local restaurants and grocery stores, talk to produce managers and chefs to see what the current demand is for. “For some people new to the business that can be intimidating. This (helps) take out the anxiety and headache of finding customers for our freight farmers.”
For more information:
Jon Friedman/Caroline Katsiroubas
Publication date: 1/8/2018
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