Freight Farms: Coming Soon with Your Help

I am majoring in environmental planning with a minor in Spanish. In my first semester at PSU I was enrolled in Dr. Howard Frederick’s First-Year Seminar, which turned out to be a course that I would never forget. Howard pushed students to try their hardest to list environmental problems affecting the town of Plymouth, and then find actual solutions.

I chose the overwhelming amount of carbon dioxide present in the atmosphere and my solution was to build a rooftop garden on top of Merrill Place. Initially, Howard was not very interested in my idea so it was almost thrown aside, until my classmate, Brianna Romiglio, told him that she was interested in working on it. Another student, Kaley Cass, expressed interest as well, and formed a group with Brianna and I. We created a concept but realized that our idea had too many faults. Our main concerns were security, safety, weight, and accessibility; all of which seemed out of our control.

Concept photo from Freight Farm

A brilliant solution was later presented to us by Howard. He had previously researched a company, Freight Farms, and its Leafy Green Machine (LGM) product. The LGM is a fully functional mobile farm, built inside of an upcycled shipping container, which is capable of growing crops year-round. Inside, there are various areas for growing the crops, an atmospheric control area, and hanging strips of LED lights surrounding the vertical growing columns. A single Freight Farm is capable of growing thousands of crops each month; the majority are leafy greens.

We were ecstatic and learned everything there is to know about the LGM. A few weeks later, we presented our idea during the annual Panther Pitch hosted by the student entrepreneurship group, Enactus. Selected students are given the opportunity to “pitch” their ideas to a judging panel of business owners and investors. Participating in the Panther Pitch was a once in a lifetime experience that I am glad to have shared with my classmates. Through this competition, my group was able to experience our first business-related event and hear what types of questions real business owners and investors might ask. Little did I know at the time that this event would provide me with the preparation that I would later need to present this project at a business advisory board meeting in the spring of 2018.

Howard is an active member of Enactus and encouraged us to join the group after the Panther Pitch in order to move forward with our project. Unfortunately, Brianna and Kaley were not able to continue so I took full control of the project (with the generous help of Howard) and joined Enactus. This project generated interest within Enactus and will hopefully be presented again during this year’s competition.

Concept photo from Freight Farm

One of our main goals is to make it a PSU Cluster project. Upon approval, the PSU Freight Farm will serve as an open laboratory for students of all backgrounds. A noticeable feature of this project is that it requires the participation of students from different majors, such as environmental studies, marketing, business, technology, and more. Each student who works in the Freight Farm will gain valuable agricultural skills that they can use later in life.

My ultimate ambition for this Freight Farm is to provide healthier and more local produce to students, faculty, and the local community. As an environmentalist, it is important to me that the produce available to students in the dining hall is local and organic. A big problem with industrial farming in the U.S. today is the number of “food miles” that accumulate, typically by truck, from farm to table. Food miles accumulated by the PSU Freight Farm project will be significantly less than industrial farming. The fewer the food miles, the less resources wasted and carbon dioxide created. Since the initial purpose of this project was to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, it is very important that our produce accumulates the least possible amount of food miles, so it will be delivered either by hand or car within a limited range.

Offering a more organic option in the PSU dining hall, local restaurants, and supermarkets will provide the local community with vegetables that have not been sprayed with harmful chemicals that can damage our bodies and wildlife. When vegetables are sprayed with pesticides and then watered, the pesticides sink into the soil and can travel into the water stream, which can negatively affect both the soil for future crops and the fish that live in nearby rivers.

Concept photo from Freight Farm

Another problem with industrial farming is that it is a very rushed process that does not allow time for the soil to be replenished with nutrients. This causes the soil to eventually be unusable for many years. With a Freight Farm, we can replenish the soil using various natural nutrients and also allow crops the time that they need to grow properly. Using this method, it is possible to grow the right amount of crops while taking soil health into consideration. With the “Farm Hand” (a Freight Farms cellular app), we can manage the nutrient levels of the soil remotely.

My main goal for this project is to provide the PSU dining hall with leafy greens. I will also work to obtain contracts with the Plymouth Walmart, Hannafords, and the Italian Farmhouse and Common Man restaurants. This will help their customers shrink their carbon footprints and be more environmentally conscious. I would like to donate any extra produce to the Plymouth Youth Center and take the children on tours of the LGM so they can see how their food is grown and how they can grow their own at home. I strongly believe in educating children about environmental issues because they are the future and they are going to face the consequences of the actions that we take today. Educating children about the environment gives them the opportunity to take action and improve their communities through similar projects.

I am very excited about this project and look forward to making it available to PSU students during this upcoming semester. Unfortunately, I will not be on campus for the unveiling since I will be studying abroad in Argentina and Costa Rica. I have temporarily handed over my position as project leader to my good friend, Bella Kuhn. It was not easy for me to leave campus during this crucial moment but I trust that Bella will manage this project just as well as I, if not better. I look forward to visiting the Freight Farm when I return!

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