The word “farm” usually conjures up images of lush greenery, animals and Midwestern amber waves of grain. Yet rarely, if ever, does the word invoke a Brooklyn, New York, parking lot.
It may sound unreal, but one team of entrepreneurs has set up farms — in shipping containers, no less — to bring fresh produce to urban residents. Even more surprising, the food is grown without natural sunlight or soil.
“By 2050, there’ll be 9 billion people and the planet, and 70 percent of them all live in the city. Those people need feeding and those people will want real food,” said Tobias Peggs, the CEO of Square Roots Grow, the start-up behind the shipping container farms. He cited 2015 population estimates from the United Nations.
“So the only conclusion that you can draw here as an entrepreneur is, we have to figure out how to grow a lot of real food right in the middle of the city at scale as quickly as possible,” Peggs added.
The start-up is the brain child of Peggs and Kimbal Musk, the brother of Tesla founder Elon Musk. They selected 10 entrepreneurs to run their own farm, located behind a former Pfizer factory in the shadow of the Marcy Houses — a public housing development where rapper Shawn “Jay Z” Carter, grew up.
Meanwhile, this particular farm produce comes with a unique touch.
“This food is grown hydroponically, which means that the nutrients are mixed with the water that feeds the roots, they’re not put into soil,” Peggs said.
In each of the 10 shipping containers Square Roots uses, the plants grow on vertical towers stacked side to side in the container. This means each container is the equivalent of a 2-acre farm, according to Square Roots.
“We don’t use pesticides, we don’t spray. All of the seeds are sourced non-GMO [genetically modified organism]. This is literally the cleanest, healthiest food that you’re ever going to eat,” said Peggs.