Mitch Hagney's leafy greens at a farmers market. Photo courtesy of Freight Farms.
Mitch Hagney's leafy greens at a farmers market. Photo courtesy of Freight Farms.

Freight Farms, a Boston-based agriculture technology company, hopes to makes local food accessible anywhere through their special, climate-controlled shipping containers. The company is currently highlighting the movers and shakers of the urban farm movement through their new video series, Grow Food Here.

The #growfoodhere campaign launched Tuesday and will highlight the efforts of “freight farmers” in the local food movement who are reshaping the landscape of their respective communities and have been addressing global issues of food insecurity, nutrition, and sustainability.

Featured farmers include San Antonian Mitch Hagney of LocalSprout, as well as others from around the U.S. such as Jerry Martin and Darryl Hill of Vet Veggies, J.J. Reidy and Christian de Paco of BoxUP, and Shawn and Connie Cooney of Corner Stalk Farms.

(Watch the trailer for the series above and an episode about Hagney and San Antonio below.)

It’s time to hear their stories, said Caroline Katsiroubas, community manager for Freight Farms. “We are trying to empower anyone to grow food anywhere.”

Freight Farms are built inside 40-foot shipping containers with enough room for vertical hydroponic growing systems and all the necessary components for commercial food production.

The space inside the container equates to 1.5 acres of land and can grow a wide variety of lettuces, herbs, and small veggies. The modular and stackable design make them easy to integrate into existing farms looking to expand their operations.

LGM wireframe outline
Diagram of the “Leafy Green Machine.” Courtesy of Freight Farms.

Hydroponics is a method of growing soil-free plants through the use of liquid nutrients in the water that go directly into plant roots, and a special LED light mimics the photosynthesis process with spectrums of red and blue light hues. Only 10 gallons of water are used a day, 90% less than traditional agriculture.

Regardless of geographic location, the climate technology inside the containers – made up of a multi-planed airflow and intercrop aeration system that automatically regulates humidity and temperatures through several sensors and controls – makes it possible to extend growing seasons to 365 days a year.

Freight Farms’ standard model shipping container is $82,000 and the premium model is $85,000.

Most of the individuals highlighted in the campaign don’t come from a background in agriculture, they are people who want to make a difference. The company has more than 70 Leafy Green Machines (LGM) operating in the U.S. alone and they’ve helped create more than 40 businesses that used the containers as a starting point to launch their own operations, such as LocalSprout.

Hagney heard about Freight Farms in 2013, the summer he graduated from Trinity University. He wanted to build a hydroponic business and ended up buying the second freight farm ever sold in the fall of the same year.

Back then, he had to repair, retrofit, and reprogram a lot of the farm. Today the containers pretty much run themselves, he said. Hagney grows several different types of lettuce and herbs such as thyme, oregano, mint, sage, and rosemary.

“As LocalSprout made modifications and solved problems, we communicated (that) to Freight Farms and they adjusted their design,” Hagney said. “I like to think of LocalSprout as an early adopter and improver for hydroponic urban agriculture like Freight Farms.”

The newest LGM model unit. Photo courtesy of Freight Farms.
The latest Freight Farms LGM unit. Photo courtesy of Freight Farms.

He began his journey with a freight farm unit, but that was only the beginning. In order for him to succeed and expand his business, he had to grow.

“I’ve built other hydroponic systems for other restaurants around the city, a greenhouse on the Westside for the San Antonio Food Bank, and a second shipping container downtown,” Hagney said.

Geoff Bezuidenhout, who owns Picnickins Patio Cafe at 6901 Blanco Rd. and a second location at 5811 University Heights Blvd., has plans to use a container from Freight Farms called Fallen Tree Farm. Bezuidenhout and his wife Michelle will begin by supplying produce to their two restaurant locations and then venture out into the great San Antonio market.

“There’s really no question: Hydroponically-grown lettuce makes a huge difference in the flavor profile, especially when compared to traditional lettuce that is shipped and washed so many times,” Bezuidenhout said. “It has a tremendous amount of flavor.”

The sustainable food movement in San Antonio is gaining traction and this will only continue, as hydroponically grown, pesticide-free produce has helped boost the local economy.

“I think there is a growing market and people will find all sorts of ways to grow and meet that demand,” Hagney added.

In the past, San Antonio urban farmers were limited when it came to using spaces such as alley-ways, restaurants, rooftops, and backyards to grow and sell their food. Last December, City Council approved amendments to the City’s Unified Development Code which allows urban farmers more freedom to grow and sell their produce.

(Read More: City Council Makes Urban Farming Legal Throughout City)

With our constantly evolving climate and extreme weather conditions, land and water scarcity has become a real issue, one which will only worsen in the coming years, studies say. Freight Farms is attempting to address the needs of a changing world’s food landscape by providing physical and digital solutions for creating local produce ecosystems on a global scale.

“We have about seven universities that are growing with us and also several high schools: they are integrating it in their curriculum and teaching students how to grow and learn sustainable practices,” Katsiroubas added. “We also offer special programs such ‘farm camp,’ where we train people on how to operate the farm and get business and marketing sessions.”

Disclosure: Mitch Hagney, CEO of LocalSprout, is also a freelancer who writes for the Rivard Report.

*Top image: Mitch Hagney’s leafy greens at a farmers market. Photo courtesy of Freight Farms.

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LocalSprout: Inside an Urban Farm on San Antonio’s Eastside

City Council Makes Urban Farming Legal Throughout City

SA Food Bank Acquires ‘Texas’ Oldest Grocery Store’ at Mission San Juan

‘About That Sprout’ to Highlight Hydrofarming, Local Artisans

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Rocío Guenther

Rocío Guenther worked as a bilingual reporter and editorial assistant for the Rivard Report from June 2016 to October 2017. She is originally from Guadalajara, Mexico and holds a bachelor's in English...