Monday, February 27, 2017

Hipster Farming

Have you ever considered becoming a farmer? What if I told you that you could produce lettuce and other vegetables right outside your house in the middle of winter? This is the vision of Jon Friedman and Brad McNamara, the founders of Freight Farms. 

Freight Farms created the Leafy Green Machine (LGM), a 40-ft shipping container with hydroponic systems to grow a variety of greens and vegetables anywhere, at anytime of the year, and by anyone. Although using seeds and an irrigation system of hydroponics are not new features of agriculture, the LGM includes many other controllable aspects such as light composition, temperature, humidity, and carbon dioxide levels, which the owner can control from a iOS phone app anywhere they are. The flexibility of the system ensures that anyone willing and motivated to grow produce will be able to. Friedman explains that Freight Farms hopes to transition people who may grow a few things in their backyard into people who farm as a business without the formal agricultural training background. The seeds are planted into “grow plugs” within recycled plastic mesh, which are then inserted into growing towers that are placed throughout the LGM. Freight Farms reports that the owners are able to produce an equal amount of produce as an acre of land in a traditional farm setting, but the LGM will use not use pesticides and uses 90% less water. Localize LLC, created by Ryan Sweeney, use a LGM to produce basil for the nearby grocery stores, accelerating the transition from producer to consumer than if the basil had been shipped from other places with optimal growing conditions like California.

The LGM was created by McNamara and Friedman because of their irritation with the wasteful transportation of produce from grower to consumer. McNamara claims, “The origins of Freight Farms was looking at the problem of growing food closer to where people are,” but there were no solutions until the LGM. With the LGM, the founders hoped to greatly diminish the environmental impact of food transportation by bringing production closer to where the consumers are. “The food system is in need of modernization…We are reducing the problem by reducing the miles,” states McNamara.

Before starting Freight Farms, McNamara and Friedman were interested in hydroponics and had done some work in rooftop greenhouse development consulting. McNamara pursued masters in both business and environmental science at Clark University, but his enthusiasm for farming began when he experimented with growing vegetables. He explored the possibility of growing lettuce inside his home and saw that he was able to produce delicious lettuce even with the onset of winter. He became incredibly excited about the flexibility of growing produce. 

When Friedman and McNamara came together to design the LGM, they brainstormed ideas on how to bring food production closer to consumers. Jon Friedman wanted to step back from the greenhouse structure in order to find something more uniform for growing in variable environments. Eventually they came across the idea of using shipping containers, which they thought merged well with the idea of local crop production. McNamara and Friedman were able to purchase a shipping container through a successful Kickstarter campaign. They built and rebuilt different versions of the LGM over 6 months before settling on the model they have today. It was not until they built the LGM in a shipping container that they had a “moment of confirmation.” The moment that Friedman describes reminds me of productive thought that insight requires, as described by Van Steenburgh et. al. As problem solvers, Friedman and McNamara used a deep conceptual understanding of hydroponics to choose relevant information and combine them in new ways to produce the paradigm shifting Leafy Green Machine. In addition, their choice to use shipping containers reminds me of “Secrets of the Creative Mind” by Nancy Andreasen. “Having too many ideas can be dangerous. Part of what comes with seeing connections no one else sees is that not all of these connections actually exist,” insists Andreasen. The founders of Freight Farms saw the shipping container as the best, and perhaps the only option, to solve the problem they saw in the current food system. 

"About Us." Freight Farms. Freight Farms, n.d. Web. 26 Feb. 2017.
Andreasen, Nancy. "Secrets of the Creative Brain." The Atlantic Monthly Group (2014): n. pag. July 2014. Web. 26 Feb. 2017.
McNamara, Brad. "Freight Farms Demo Day Pitch." Online video clip. Freight Farms, 19 May 2013. Web. 26 Feb. 2017.
Quinn-Szcesuil, Julia. "Freight Farms: Bounty in a Box." Clark University. N.p., 01 Aug. 2016. Web. 26 Feb. 2017.
Steenburgh, J. Jason Van, Jessica I. Fleck, Mark Beeman, and John Kounios. "Insight." Oxford Handbooks Online (2012): 475091. Web. 26 Feb. 2017.
Wall Street Journal. "Urban Farming With the Leafy Green Machine." Online video clip. Wall Street Journal, 8 June 2016. Web. 26 Feb. 2017.
Xively. "Customer Spotlight: Freight Farms - Innovative Agriculture through the loT." Online video clip. Xively, 23 Feb. 2016. Web. 26 Feb. 2017.


  1. This is a really cool concept. It addresses many issues that are prevalent today, especially in urban settings, such as food shortages, local sourcing of produce, availability of healthy food, waste reduction, and more. I think their choice to use a shipping container is not only creative and an effective use of space, but it also allows for the possibility of easily transporting fresh produce to places where it is most needed. Even though a major purpose of the product is to reduce transportation of produce, this could still be useful for transportation when food shortages arise around the city and world. Taking greenhouse and urban farming concepts to this level is a unique and interesting solution.

  2. I think this is a great piece in that it empowers people to grow produce not only for themselves but as a possible livelihood. The concept is very creative in its multidimensional approach but it is also amazing how much of a pay off the investment gives to those who wish to grow produce. As Alex said, the Freight Farm also tackles the importance of sustainability and user friendly ways to reduce waste.

  3. This is such a wonderful invention. I think it solves an incredible number of problems present today. It aids in tackling the problem of food injustice by providing an easy way to produce fresh food in food deserts. Additionally, it is a sustainable and green form of farming. It requires less energy and water than a typical home, WOW! Finally, it helps recycle old freights that would otherwise add to the waste in dumps. What a wonderful creation!


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