As fertile lands deplete and populations rise, traditional agriculture has become an industry ripe for modernization. In response, Freight Farms of Boston, MA, have redefined the farming experience with the Leafy Green Machine, a recycled shipping container turned into a shipping container farm.

Since its invention in 2010, the shipping container farm concept has been adopted by entrepreneurs and organizations across the country. Taking roots as a sustainable urban farming solution for restaurants, universities and more, the energy-efficient container ditches the sprawling acres, dirt and sweat associated with traditional farming for the high-tech, compact farm of the future.

All you need is a plot of land large enough to accommodate a 40-foot shipping container, a little bit of water and a power source – then you’re in business.

What Is a Shipping Container Farm?

Urban farming in a recycled shipping container.

Image courtesy of Freight Farms

Put simply, it’s a farm in a box.

The Freight Farms container yields up to two acres of farm land with only five gallons of water a day, which is 90 percent less than traditional agriculture.

You can grow a variety of lettuces from butterhead, bibb and lolerosia to leaf lettuce, oak leaf and romaine. Greens sprouting up in the shipping container farm include swiss chard, mustard greens, bok choy and kale, along with herbs like basil, cilantro and thyme.

Urban farming inside a recycled shipping container.

Photo courtesy of Freight Farms

Inside the 40-foot recycled shipping container, you can find the ideal conditions for farming regardless of outdoor climate. LED lights simulate sunlight to provide crops the right spectrum of light to optimize each stage of the growing cycle. Vertical towers create a high-density growing environment, maximize the space inside the container and provide 4,500 mature plant sites and 2,500 nursery sites.

Freight Farms Farmhand app

Image courtesy of Freight Farms

In case your interest hasn’t fully bloomed, your crops can be conveniently controlled from the palm of your hand with the Farmhand app. The app allows you to monitor growth, nutrients in the water, carbon dioxide levels, humidity, climate control and more remotely, giving a whole new meaning to the green thumb.

“We’re appealing to people who don’t have to drastically change their lifestyle to maintain the farm. You don’t always have to be there to see what’s going on. People are able to see live, real-time data, basically everything that’s going on.”

Caroline Katsiroubas | Freight Farms

The Benefits of Urban Farming with a Recycled Shipping Container

Growing inside of a shipping container farm removes the fatigue, time and space associated with traditional farming. Rather than expending hours of labor on a gigantic plot of land, the shipping container farm maximizes agricultural productivity in urban areas with an excess of under-utilized building space.

Urban farming brings a sustainable food source to densely populated, industrialized areas. Modern consumers are interested in the story of their food, leading to an influx in farm-to-table restaurants and local grower’s markets. People want to feel a connection to their food source as a part of their community.

Freight Farms Encourages Sustainability on College Campuses

The Leafy Green Machine is utilized as both a learning tool and a source of food for dining halls at a handful of universities, including Clark University, UMass Dartmouth and more. The experience of farming inside a recycled shipping container allows students to foster a connection with food that instills a healthy, sustainable mindset for the next generation.

Clark University’s Shipping Container Farm

The shipping container farm concept originated during co-founder Brad McNamara’s time as a graduate student at Clark University in Worcester, MA. The first model took roots in the parking lot behind the university’s recycling center. The Leafy Green Machine continues to provide fresh food for the campus, while also offering valuable, hands-on growing experience to students. The university has maximized the growing capacity beyond 500 to 800 heads of lettuce and expanded beyond lettuce to kale.

“We’re able to provide really terrific, marketable skills to students as hydroponic farmers, farm managers, technology, food service and production. 100 percent of what comes out of there is served through our dining services, whether it’s at the salad bar, the cafeteria or catering. “

Jenny Isler | Director of Sustainability, Clark University

Vertical Farming at UMass Dartmouth

University farm inside a recycled shipping container.

Photo courtesy of UMass Dartmouth Dining Services

At UMass Dartmouth, the Freight Farm delivers a solution for the ever-growing demand for fresh food year-round. University chefs, Kevin and David, tend to the daily needs of the farm and serve up the fruits, or veggies, of their labor.

“Our Freight Farm has been on campus since November 2015. We were the second university in the state to grow greens vertically and hydroponically (without) soil. The Freight Farm brings in 5,000 heads of lettuce per semester which not only helps our cost and production but helps students and staff learn about and access locally grown produce.”

Kirby Roberts | UMass Dartmouth Dining Services

Image courtesy of UMass Dartmouth Dining Services

Image courtesy of UMass Dartmouth Dining Services

If urban farming in a recycled shipping container has grown on you, see how farms are hitting rooftops across the country.

Budget Dumpster is your community-focused source for a dumpster rental in Boston. This article is part of a series spotlighting organizations that are making a difference in the communities we serve. If you know of another great organization, let us know in the comments!