The most difficult challenge facing humanity is not devising solutions to the energy crisis or climate crisis or population crisis; rather, it is bringing stories or narratives of the human journey into our collective awareness that empower us to look beyond a future of great adversity and to see a future of great opportunity. What visions of humanity’s journey are sufficiently compelling to transcend age-old differences and bring us together in a common venture of inhabiting the Earth in ways that are sustainable? ~ Duane Elgin, NewStories, Great Transition Stories
The future demands that what we understand and accept as our main means of growing/raising (large scale agriculture) and processing food must evolve and change. Conventional food production is unsustainable as it takes its toll on finite resources. Innovation and technology are the way of the future and Bright Greens Canada is a glimpse into that future.
Tamara Knott, project manager turned high tech farmer, jumped down a new rabbit hole a few months ago when she opened her doors to the public as Bright Greens Canada. She was the first to do so in British Columbia and her farm is one of six such operations in Canada – one in Alberta, one in Saskatchewan and three in Ontario. Her mission: to supply organic, fresh, local greens 365 days of the year.
I had the pleasure of meeting Tamara on her family farm in North Saanich near Victoria on Vancouver Island. She humbly described herself as a newbie farmer. However, it was apparent early on in our meeting that she was nimbly and expertly piloting the cutting edge technology in the form of a 40 foot shipping container retrofitted with specialized lighting and a closed loop watering/plant feeding system designed to grow nutrient dense food vertically.
A Revolutionary Idea
Does a farm housed inside a shipping container provide a more ethical, ecologically responsible, logistically and economically viable option for food production? Tamara is currently growing 7 different types of lettuce, kale and herbs and produces up to 45 kg of fresh produce per week. These greens grow vertically in a carefully controlled environment without chemicals or off-farm inputs and with minimal water and electricity use.
Growing food in a shipping container is the brain child of the Boston-based company Freight Farms. Their mission is to allow farmers to grow organic, nutrient dense food anywhere (with a simple water and electricity hookup) and with virtually no negative impact to the planet – to bring agriculture to to the urban landscape, the desert, the moon and Mars.
Their 40 foot hydroponic operation is remotely controlled with their intelligent operation app. A farmer with the app remotely monitors and controls the amount of water, light and nutrients plants receive. Since land, soil and solar conditions and water are key to successful farming, Freight Farms takes care of all of these challenges of conventional agriculture.
They are out to change perceptions about farming. Freight farms are single handedly making agriculture easy, simple, accessible and doable by anyone, anytime and anywhere without the need for or use of chemicals or pesticides. A freight farmer can grow a commercial scale amount of food in a small shipping container close to the place where it will be consumed with a minimal carbon footprint or damage to the natural environment.
It was amazing to see Tamara’s intelligent operation in action and how the smallest details were thought through – even the moisture in the shipping container was captured via dehumidifier, purified with reverse osmosis and reused to water the crops.
The shipping containers are modular, scale-able and stack-able. This innovation opens the door to a whole new future of food security – potentially giving more people access to nutrient dense and safe foods on a predictable and consistent basis.
How It Works
- The farm operation is built entirely inside a 40’ x 8’ x 9.5’ shipping container and is outfitted with all the tools needed for high-volume, consistent harvests.
- Innovative climate technology and growing equipment allows for a consistent environment 365 days a year, regardless of geographic location.
High efficiency LED light strips provide crops with red and blue light – the light spectrums required for photosynthesis.
A closed loop hydroponic system delivers a nutrient rich water solution directly to roots, using only 10 gallons of water a day.
- The multi-planed airflow and intercrop aeration system automatically regulates temperature and humidity through a series of sensors and controls.
How Does the Food Taste?
The question I got asked the most after meeting with Tamara was, “How does the food taste?” Tamara kindly gave us two full bags of her greens to take home, stating “the proof is in the lettuce”. Indeed. The mix of greens was so fragrant and flavourful that we couldn’t stop smelling it, eating it or talking about it around our table. My husband (who is a fervent meat eater) remarked that he couldn’t remember the last time he smelled or tasted lettuce that was so fragrant or flavourful. The greens, picked just before we arrived for a tour of Bright Greens Canada, stayed fresh and crisp for a good two weeks (sealed in a plastic bag and refrigerated) as we devoured them for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
It is no wonder that chefs in Victoria are featuring Tamara’s 7 different types of lettuce, kale and herbs on their menus as the demand for local, organic, sustainable and responsible food production continues to grow (some would say that it is returning) on the Island.
The average age of farmers in Canada is 55 on the east and west coasts of Canada. This new turn-key, high tech way of farming may pack a whole lot of appeal to both younger and older generations alike. Food security, safety, sustainability are everyone’s business. We can no longer sit by passively and put where our food comes from conveniently an arm’s length away. Bright Greens Canada and Freight Farms are paving a new path on the agricultural scene.