How Farm from a Box Could Feed the World
Eating fresh fruits and vegetables from a farm just outside of town is more than just an industry gimmick using “organic” and “locally sourced” as buzzwords. In fact, that we’ve grown to prefer conventional mass-production harvesting over natural, small farm agriculture practices is more than a little backwards. With the rising cost of food logistics and a global food shortage affecting hundreds of millions of people, we need to reconsider how we grow our food. Some would say to think outside the box but in this case, you might want to think inside it.
Capitalizing on the rising popularity (and practicality) of sustainability and farm-to-table initiatives, Farm from a Box, Inc. is offering two-acre farm kits that could revolutionize agriculture and local food economies. With over 795 million people going hungry around the world (or about 1 in 9 people), and 45 percent of deaths in children under five (or little over 3 million) attributed to poor nutrition each year, this farm-to-table-friendly company wants to enable communities to build their own farms.
Brandi DeCarli, a co-founding partner of Farm from a Box, spoke to Solar Power World earlier last year about the project’s intent:
“Based on extensive field research, we found that rural communities often lack the resources and infrastructure needed to access nutritious food. We developed a toolkit that contains all of the core components needed to grow your own food, on a two-acre plot of land, without the need for an existing grid. Imagine the good it can do by growing local, organic food for a school, or helping jumpstart food production after a disaster. Farm from a Box enables and empowers communities to provide for themselves.”
While starvation and food insecurity isn’t unique to developing countries, these customizable kits equip teams of wannabe farmers with all they need to be successful, turning unused land into lush fields ripe for the picking. Hailed as the “Swiss-Army knife” of sustainable farming, Farm from a Box might be a glimpse into the future of modern agriculture. This assertion isn’t without ample reason.
Revisiting the Garden of Eden
Upon first glance, the Farm from a Box looks like something out of a space-colonizing sci-fi film: from little more than a shipping container (depending on your needs, you can get 10-, 20-, or 40-foot variants), equipment such as solar panels, weather vanes, and irrigation systems are deployed, converting the container into central hub for the farm. From here, farmers can access and store tools, as well as charge electronics and hook computers up to a built-in wi-fi network. The hub also monitors crop data like moisture and systems functions to automate as much as possible while giving the farmers accurate readings of the land and crops they’re working with.
Exact specifics vary from box to box, but all include the following features:
- 3 kiloWatt solar power from panels mounted on the roof
- Micro-drip irrigation to regulate crops and extend local growing season (through regulation)
- Water purification
- Seedling house
- Basic farming tools
- Charging area, wi-fi/cloud support, and LED lighting
Ranging from $25,000 to $45,000, each two-acre farm can support up to 150 people with a full diet of produce each year. In other words, the initial cost is about $167 – $300 to feed each person for a year. Try supporting a four-person family on food budget like that for a month, let alone an entire year. While these numbers don’t factor in continued upkeep of the grounds, the Farm from a Box system aspires to be as sustainable and recyclable as possible, maximizing reuse and minimizing waste.
With at least six other companies like Trojan Battery and Cisco partnering up to outfit Farm from a Box with the best technology, community-sustained agriculture is rapidly securing its place as a 21st century staple. But what about countries that know a world of ample grocery store shelves and conventionally produced meats and produce?
A New Oasis
Even here in the United States, starvation is a problem. In this land of plenty, there are still 23.5 million of us stranded in food deserts — areas defined by their inaccessibility to affordable, nutritionally-rich food like fresh produce. While the government has issued $400 million as an investment toward combating food deserts, some of the worst cities to get healthy food are surprisingly big names: Chicago, New Orleans, Detroit, and Minneapolis rank within the nation’s top nine worst food deserts; in New York City alone, three million people don’t have enough access to supermarkets.
With its modular design and compact operating area of two-acres, Farm from a Box could easily supplement urban agriculture drives, converting disused brown lots into community gardens. As a part of the kit, farmers are also given a three-part training seminar covering topics such as sustainable farming practices, technology use and maintenance, and farming as an enterprise; while these boxes can be deployed by non-profits to conquer food deserts, craftier residents could just as well turn unproductive land into a profitable produce niche.
In addition to educating people on sustainable agriculture, Farm from a Box can strengthen local economies regardless of the presence of a food desert. Farm-to-table programs have already proven to be boons for communities, building closer relationships with local businesses and customers in their day-to-day transactions. Not to mention giving people jobs by actually working the farms themselves.
No matter how complicated 21st century logistics have become, DeCarli and Farm from a Box are showing us that sometimes, going back to basics (and taking new technology with us) might be the answer to our problems. Whether to establish a rural village’s access to fresh food and vegetables or setting up your own hobby farm outside of town, everything you’ll ever need to get your hands dirty in sustainable farming is all in one box.
As more companies and communities get their hands on them and more people sign up to support the initiative, it’ll be interesting to see what modular technologies like this can do all over the world. Sometimes, all people need to succeed are the right tools. All that’s left is to give it to them.