Inspired by the City of Tulips, New York Businessman Launches Mobile Growing System
July 24, 2014 | Trish Popovitch
It was on a business trip to Amsterdam that Glenn Behrman, a savvy New Yorker with business dealings across the globe, saw the future of agricultural production at the indoor farming research facility of PlantLab.
When he returned to the States, he and his partner and friend of 35 years Alan Helene got to work creating a mobile growing system called Growtainer that he believes could change the world of agriculture.
Using shipping containers to grow produce is not a novel concept, but Behrman feels the difference between other products and Growtainer is the level of efficiency that comes from custom-building containers for controlled environment plant production. Growtainers aren’t converted or upcycled; rather they are manufactured in Dallas, Texas.
“We’re producing the containers to sell to operators, but we’re also producing the containers for research. We’re producing the containers for different uses other than to just grow lettuce or basil,” says Behrman.
Growtainers are custom built 20- or 40-foot insulated shipping containers housing an adjustable stainless steel growing rack system with LED lighting. The Growtroller, a computerized control panel, ensures the ideal growing conditions for the chosen plants. The HydroCurve nutrient system sits in the maintenance area of the Growtainer and delivers precise quantities of nutrient and water to the plants. Everything is adjustable, providing the operator with an efficient, high quality, super-technical shell to house their mobile farm, research center or educational tool.
Comprised of two controlled positive-pressure environment production chambers, the Growtainers are disease and pest-free. The inside walls of the Growtainers are painted with reflective epoxy while the exterior is coated with insulating ceramic paint. When utilized at capacity, the current version of the Growtainer can produce up to 5,520 in 30 days or 66,240 plants per year.
Despite decades of experience in horticulture, marketing and selling, Behrman quickly understood that a project such as the Growtainer needed a team of experts working together for a common goal.
“What it made me realize was that no participant was more important than any other,” says Behrman. “The lighting guy is no more important than the climate control guy and the controller guy is no more important than the process guy. This is controlled environment agriculture. Its technology-based production. We control all the variables. It behooves us to be able to control them perfectly. “
Although technically a startup, Behrman and Helene, who have worked on other companies together in the past, funded the new company themselves. For Behrman, at this point in his career, the goal isn’t profit; it’s positive global impact.
“We’re looking to build a Rolls-Royce we can sell for the price of a Chevy . I think that we’re working on something that’s so huge it can impact the whole world. In order to have the kind of passion we have you have got to be able to temper it with humility,” says Behrman. “With 40 years of experience, the main lesson I learned from this project was how much I really didn’t know. I accepted that pretty early on and surrounded myself with people that are experts in their field and developed a collaborative direction for this thing. It was the smartest move I could have made.”
Working with Texas A&M University and collaborating on lighting with Phillips, Behrman continues to tweak the design while promoting the concept. He intends to offer both the Growtainers and the rack systems (which can be bought separately) to the commercial market in a matter of weeks.
The ideas keep coming for Behrman, who envisions endless possibilities for mobile vertical farms and their impact on the way the world looks at food and water use.
Behrman keeps future plans close to the chest, but hints that continued advances in Growtainer’s already efficient energy consumption, reduced lighting needs for growth, solar powered units and the creation of refrigerated containers to close production gaps for small companies are all within the realm of possibility for this 40-years in the making American startup.