There’s something romantic about an upcycled shipping container being transformed into a sustainable indoor growing operation. It takes would-be garbage from rotting in a port and turns it into a farm system that has the potential to lengthen growing seasons, reduce local food insecurity, and stabilize a farmer’s annual income stream. And, for some it works.
But not always. Eric Amyot was an early adopter of container farming who purchased one of the best retrofitted shipping containers available in 2014 and started SmartGreens, a Canadian operation that grows and delivers fresh greens direct to consumer.
Amyot and his team quickly exhausted the capabilities of the shipping container farm. “The concept and the approach itself were adequate in the sense that it was a good foundation,” he says. “What was lacking was what was needed to grow food consistently and adequately. The turnkey wasn’t as turnkey as we required.”
Careful planning, adequate startup capital and experience working on a traditional rural farm are just three of the elements that veteran urban farmer, and co-founder of Vancouver’s Sole Food Street Farms, Michael Ableman feels are necessary to be successful in the new urban agriculture movement. Founded in 2008, Sole Food Street Farms would be considered by many growers as established and successful, but for Ableman there is still much work to be done both at Street Farms and in the development of the city farm movement.
“The skill level required to be a farmer is not something you get just by wearing the right clothes, having the right tools and having started last year. It takes five to ten years to develop that skill level,” says Ableman. “What we’re trying to do is demonstrate that it is in fact possible to have a credible model of agriculture in the city, so the scale and production levels, the volume we produce, the number of people we employ is significant.”
When Holly and Terry Delaney poked their heads into the kitchen at the Salvation Army where a friend was undergoing a one-year program toward self-sufficiency they were disappointed to see mostly frozen and canned goods being served. When you’re in recovery and trying to get healthy, you should be eating healthy food, they thought.
With the budget constraints of a nonprofit organization in mind, the pair approached local farmers in their community, the Santa Ynez Valley in California’s Central Coast, who agreed to let them glean produce from their fields or pick up food that didn’t sell during farmer’s markets and distribute it to local charities. One by one, new farmers agreed to contribute, and within a year, the Delaneys realized they had a viable nonprofit organization themselves. They registered Veggie Rescue as a 501(c)(3) in 2011.
In cities across America, the female farmer is staking her claim. Whether she is an urban homesteader, farm manager, business founder, community garden leader or maker of a movement, the female city farmer is rising. Role models for what can be done, inspiration for what can be achieved and hope for what comes next, these female growers are planting seeds of change in the urban agriculture movement.
Bed in a bag, soup in a jar, cake in a cup and now ‘farm in a box’? As many urban-ag-ers jump on the shipping container farm bandwagon that’s made inroads across the pro-grow community, some are wondering if the farm in a shipping container idea is really as cost effective and sustainable as it may at first appear. Hydroponics has proven a sustainable and reliable method for growing food in the city. Where concrete fields abound, so do vertical towers. Yet some would argue that a successful hydroponics system needs more than an upcycled shipping container to sustain success.
In states with short growing seasons and tumultuous weather, the idea of an indoor, self-contained growing unit employed to produce consistent and plentiful yields and steady revenue streams seems like the ideal solution for spreading sustainability, growing local and decreasing the impact of long established food deserts.