Shipping Container Farms: Check Out This Craze in Modified Containers
Greenhouses, hydroponics and mushroom farms – converted shipping containers can produce protein and vegetables for all your needs. Even if you’re not an environmentalist, there are business opportunities to be had in delivering extremely fresh food to people in urban environments like Brisbane. Given the changing climate and topsoil loss we are facing, shipping container farms could well be an answer to these issues.
Over the years in the Gateway Gazette, we have published a number of stories that look at producing food in converted shipping containers. Reflecting on what we have published and looking at the detail of what can be done, let’s consider the possibilities that come with shipping container farms.
Open Top Container Greenhouse
One of the most cost-effective ways of using a shipping container as a food producing unit is by attaching a glass top to an open-top shipping container.
In this video, Urban Farm Units looked at the concept of a greenhouse-container. An open top 20 foot container would have a greenhouse attached to the top with shelving units directly under the glass. This allows the photosynthesis to take place in the normal way.
Seedlings can be started in the lower part of the unit, which is warmed by the light and heat from the outside.
One step down from slapping a greenhouse on top of an open top container, would be to use a flat rack container and to have the greenhouse on the base (Gateway Containers can supply both open top and flat rack containers).
The concept is an improvement on the one in the video, as long as you keep the greenhouse within the dimensions of a 20ft standard or high-cube container, it would be possible to lift and move the container farm from place to place.
This might be useful where you have an agreement with property developers or a council to use vacant plots of land in a city for agriculture. When the site is ready to be developed you can stick it all on a truck and move it to the next plot.
The concept of a shipping container greenhouse is:
- Cheap to buy
- And often won’t need planning permission for a permanent site
Could this be something you’d consider? Contact us at Gateway Containers to discuss your needs!
Mushie Container Farm!
In 2019 we reported how Belgrave, Vic based John Ford has developed a shipping container mushroom farm. This could produce protein for people as an alternative to meat or for anyone who loves the taste of freshly cut shrooms.
Mushrooms of any kind don’t store well and are best eaten as soon as possible after cutting. This is why having a mushroom farm close to restaurants could be a money spinner.
This requires no modification from a basic shipping container, you could even install the racking inside the container yourself.
In their lifecycle, mushroom mycelium live out of sight of the world until they are stressed and get the impression that they are facing death. When stressed they flower to produce spores – those flowers are the mushrooms that many of us love to eat.
A shipping container is perfect to take advantage of such a lifecycle. Logs or other media are infected with the mycelium and left to rot for a certain time. By altering the environmental conditions, so you deliberately stress the fungi and they flower.
In our article, we reported how John Ford is producing mushroom species that are famed for their delicate taste but don’t travel well at all – shiitake and oyster mushrooms. As a sideline to his main income as a marine biologist restoring seagrass habitats near Belgrave, he produces freshly cut shrooms for local people and restaurants.
For you as an entrepreneur, mushroom growing would require buying a used shipping container and setting it up as mushroom farm. If you are planning an urban mushroom container farm, you can take advantage of the fact that you can treat the container as a mobile unit and not as a permanent base. Shipping containers are also pretty inexpensive to buy and convert.
Hydroponics – the Rolls Royce of Shipping Container Farms
The hydroponics concept is highly developed for the use of fresh food and can be set up for high density vegetable farming in shipping containers. This requires a fair bit more modification than the two systems we describe above.
Unlike the Urban Farm Units company, several companies have managed to survive over the years selling their hydroponic container farm businesses to entrepreneurs and restaurants around the world.
Modular Farms is a company we featured in our blog originally based in Canada, but who recently set up shop over here in Australia. According to their website, they “design and manufacture container farm systems that can be used to grow food in most locations on earth.”
These systems strive to get round some of the issues we face here. Cities like Brisbane get far too much water sometimes and then face droughts for years on end. The Australian Food Services News reported, “With a focus on sustainability, Modular Farms’s hydroponic, closed-loop system uses 95% less water than a typical outdoor farm.”
Topsoil erosion is a problem, especially in prolonged droughts when it gets blown away as dust. Hydroponics use media like rock wool and even used mattresses to house the plants’ root systems and feed them nutrients via a watering system.
With our ever more extreme climate, food often has to be imported into cities from hundreds or thousands of miles away. A hydroponic container farm can enable you to grow many veg very close to markets and restaurants.
This has been observed by global homewares retail giant IKEA, which in 2019 announced it was piloting growing vegetables in its stores for use at its restaurants. We reported, “While selling hydroponic indoor growing equipment to customers, IKEA is feeding its staff with lettuce and other vegetables grown in a container outside its Malmö and Helsingborg stores.”
There are a few downsides to hydroponics. Firstly, while some types of plants are happy enough growing in hydroponics – the simpler ones producing leaves and flowers (like broccoli!) – others aren’t so happy, such as cassava, wheat and potatoes.
The next big issue is that for a high intensity farm, not unlike factory farming chickens, you need to be ultra clean in your production as the arrival of a destructive disease or fungus could wipe you out very quickly.
Container Fish Farm too?
In theory it is possible to run a fish farm connected to the hydroponics container farm, with you largely feeding the fish and collecting their faeces and other waste to feed the plants. The plants would clean the fishes’ water and make it habitable for them as reed beds do in nature. This a concept that is in development but hasn’t caught on commercially yet.
How can Gateway Containers help?
We can provide and convert an insulated container for you to get started with and advise you how to best make further additions without compromising the overall structure.
If any or all of these ideas have caught your interest – or you just know about these concepts and need a shipping container to make it possible – then get in touch with us today to discuss your needs!