(2 minute read)
During our time in the States we visited a system of mobile and urban farming designed, built and run by ‘Local Roots’. This is an idea I remember discussing in Architecture studios at Uni as part of sustainable urban environments. Typically concepts included converted tower blocks with graphics of green plantlife cascading from the skies amidst concrete structures as wildlife frolicked in the background. Oh utopia!
By chance, I looked at the use of shipping containers for another Uni project. I also then worked on a container office project in London a few years later. So the opportunity to visit a container based farm was of some interest!
The principle, as you may have guessed, is taking a shipping container and fitting it out with ‘planting beds’. This gives the advantage of mobility and a controlled space. In containing the space, the environment can be precisely engineered whilst waste is minimised. Making it mobile means transport costs between production and consumption are reduced. It also means that production can be taken to places of need such as drought zones and refugee camps (as described by Local Roots www.localrootsfarms.com).
A sustainable alternative?
Hydroponics is the key technique being used here. A method of growing plants with nutrient rich water instead of soil. The controlled supply reduces water use by around 97% with less lost to evaporation and dispersal through the soil. LED lighting then allows the correct wavelengths to be provided improving growth rates over traditional methods. The design also allows for greater density of production per square metre as hydroponic racks are stacked up resulting in roughly four times as much production as in the field. On top of this the enclosed growing environment means no unwanted pests, insects or plants, removing any excuse for chemical controls.
There are of course a number of pros and cons above those listed. For example, ‘urbanising’ farming in this manner reduces strain on existing agricultural and ‘untouched’ land. This reduces chances for soil erosion and allows natural ecosystems to flourish. In contrast however, the system requires electricity to operate which reduces overall sustainability achieved. An issue the team are currently exploring to achieve a fully sustainable operation.
The system created here provides a means of producing good quality, organic food. This is chemical free with reduced water consumption, increased production per square metre and if required, mobility. There are a number of companies across the world exploring this technology (‘agtech’) which appears to have a huge amount of potential. We are thankful to the Local Roots team for giving us the opportunity to see and discuss it as they move from strength to strength.
Local Roots (Shipping Container Farms): www.localrootsfarms.com
This article has been written unsolicited and without payment.
Image Credits: Local Roots Farming