Urban agriculture is going high tech by repurposing a lowly boxcar container as a “farm in a box” to yield large quantities of fresh local vegetables and fruits year-round. In fact, the cropbox grows as much lettuce as an acre of land. It’s done by pairing a hydroponic growing system and monitoring system within a shipping container.
It’s called a “CropBox” and is manufactured by greenhouse builder Williamson Greenhouses in an outgrowth of a project of Ben Greene and Tyler Nethers. They are developing the Farmery, an urban farm and grocery in North Carolina that uses shipping containers to grow strawberries, greens, lettuces, herbs, and gourmet mushrooms.
The CropBox is designed to run pretty much automatically. Inside the container, plants grow on several layers of shelves with built-in lights and recirculating water and nutrients. Sensors measure everything from the temperature of the plants’ roots to carbon dioxide levels and light intensity.
“You can monitor and adjust every element from a smartphone,” says Greene. You can even watch plants grow in your living room recliner with a webcam. The smartphone app also charts changes over time.
Since it’s a hydroponic system, it has the additional benefits of using 90% less water and 80% less pesticide than conventional field agriculture.
CropBox offers the option to buy the unit, and will soon offer an option to rent-to-own. “If you lost contracts or customers, you as a small farmer would still be left holding the bag” according to Greene.
The return on investment is very attractive with the right crop that could potentially earn back the cost of the unit in seven months. Plus, Greene stated if “someone leases the CropBox and changes their mind, the company will take it back”.