Using a standard refrigerated shipping container, it is possible to grow a variety of fresh produce crops year-round without the use of pesticides or herbicides. Using LED lighting, an internal irrigation system as well as the climate controls of the container, an environment suitable for growing plants can be maintained. Similar to how these same containers are used when shipping fresh produce around the world, these kinds of systems are designed to work for long periods without interruption, resulting in a reliable and robust growing system.
Our approach is less about creating one or two containers to park beside a farmers market and more about operating a much larger set of containers with the goal of replacing a modern greenhouse or large field crop. A greenhouse can increase crop yields by a factor of 10x over a field crop, while also using 1/10th of the water. Using the same land footprint, a container farm can increase crop yields by a factor of 10x again over a greenhouse, while also using 1/10th of the water. Put another way, a container can increase crop yields 100x over a field crop, while using 1/100th of the water.
What's the catch? It is more capital intensive at the outset, particularly compared to a field crop. And because it produces more, potentially more labour is needed to manage the resulting crop yields. Compared to a large commercial greenhouse, the overall capital cost of a container farm might be 4x a greenhouse covering the same amount of land. Efficiencies in labour over time can quickly overcome that deficit.
Acquiring farm labour is also increasingly more challenging, and this isn't expected to change anytime soon. A container farm though uses labour in a very different way, and with a different economic model, it is possible to pay living wages and provide a "factory-like" work environment with a standard work week all year long. Investments in labour (training, benefits and so on) don't expire at the end of the growing season as might happen in the case of having a workforce comprised entirely of temporary foreign workers.