Company creates working gardens for year-round fresh produce


Imagine being able to get fresh, locally grown produce all year round.

It doesn't sound feasible, but a local company created by two Northeastern University graduates has figured out a way to make that possible.

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Their company is called Freight Farms. They take discarded shipping containers and turn them into working farms.

One of their containers sits in a parking lot overlooking the S.E Expressway and produces swiss chard and other leafy greens.

“When we said we want to take growing, on a commercial scale, all indoors, all modular, and then allow anyone to do it – the traditional industry and the traditionalists said ‘you guys are crazy,’” company co-founder Brad McNamara said.

Freight Farms started in in 2010 and now has 30 employees in their South Boston office. They've shipped re-fitted containers to dozens of states and countries.

McNamara believes their approach is a very efficient way to grow food.

Here's how it works: Seedlings start in specially designed trays and are then exposed to light that maximizes their growth. After a few weeks, they are transferred to long vertical columns. They are fed through hydroponics and aren't exposed to soil, only nutrient rich water.

“You control for flavor, texture, for shape, for size, for color,” added McNamara.

In about 3-6 weeks, fresh produce is ready to be picked and eaten - without being shipped across the country. McNamara says it tastes better than traditional produce, “because your lettuce two weeks old vs two hours old is a completely different product.”

A Freight Farm container can produce about the equivalent of 1.5 acres of farm land. Many of the containers are old refrigerator units that were used to ship frozen food in their first life.

Dave Pendergast of Agora Greens in Walpole now has two containers. He says the demand for this type of produce is growing. They send their lettuce and herbs to restaurants, grocery stores, and institutional kitchens.

Pendergast believes this is the future of farming as it provides an efficient way to get fresh food to people in cities. “We don’t need tractors. We don’t need a lot of labor. There’s nobody out there squirting pesticides on this stuff. We don’t have weather variables.”

One of the big selling features is reduction in water usage “We recycle the water,” said Pendergast. “10 gallons a week for 5,000 heads of lettuce.”

And - a container can be controlled with an app. “You don’t need a green thumb,” chuckled Pendergast. “It’s all run by a super computer that turns itself off and on, and the lights go off and on, they are all synchronized together.”

African ministers have come to tour Agora Greens to see how the units work. Pendergast said they were impressed with the limited water usage and thought they could provide a good way to grow food in drought impacted areas.