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.
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.
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