Natural Grocers Growing Its GardenBox Program

GardenBox manager harvesting lettuce

Lakewood, Colo.Michael Boardman knows it takes exactly 82 steps to get from the GardenBox to the produce display at Natural Grocers’ store in Green Mountain – Lakewood.

Boardman manages the first of what could eventually be more Natural Grocers GardenBoxes, a shipping container-based farm that grows several organic lettuce varieties right behind the store it supplies. That means instead of spending about 10 days going from a farm to a distribution center to a truck to a display case — losing about half of its nutritional value and shelf life in the process — the fresh greens go immediately from the container farm to the aisle.

That’s how Boardman knows it takes precisely 82 steps to walk to what ends up being a vibrant, colorful produce display: he’s done it a few times.

The use of a GardenBox could be a sign of what’s to come. More retailers (and consumers, for that matter) that specialize in healthy living are learning that produce doesn’t need to be shipped in from elsewhere. Natural Grocers is taking its pilot program to the next level, with the help of Colorado-based FarmBox Foods, an innovative company that designs, builds and sells the automated, controlled-climate container farms.

Boardman is creating the GardenBox playbook from scratch. He spent weeks developing a nutrient blend that allows Natural Grocers leafy greens to maintain their certified organic status, while enabling the produce to thrive in a hydroponic farm. So far, the company has tried 8 types of lettuce with great success.

To help promote the idea of produce growing outside the store where it’s sold, Natural Grocers gave away about 1,000 heads of lettuce in late June. The produce is now being sold at the Green Mountain – Lakewood location.

“People have loved it. They have been really impressed with it. It’s definitely a much better tasting green, and it’s fresher,” he said.

Boardman, who has spent 8 years with Natural Grocers and also has a background as a produce buyer, said there are “very few products on the market that are living,” pointing out that shoppers who buy heads of lettuce grown in a GardenBox can actually keep them alive in water until they’re eaten.

From alkindus, brentwood to hampton lettuce and mirlo lettuce, there’s plenty to be excited about. Boardman, who particularly enjoys the incredibly flavorful Marciano red butterhead lettuce grown in the GardenBox, says his favorite aspect of the process has been learning what works best to get the plants to thrive.

“Figuring out the solution to it, how to do this organically and sustainably, and watching this grow and be successful has been the best part,” he said.

The Vertical Hydroponic Farm used to grow the produce can simultaneously hold about 11,000 plants in various stages of growth, including about 7,000 seedlings. The plants go from seed to harvest all within the 320-square-foot space in the GardenBox purchased from FarmBox Foods. It’s a game-changer for helping decentralize the food supply chain and empowering individual communities.

To learn more, go to www.naturalgrocers.com/gardenbox. For more information about FarmBox Foods, visit www.farmboxfoods.com.

Ongoing Shipping Logjam Makes a Case for Decentralized Food Supply

SEDALIA, Colo. – A post-pandemic resurgence in sales across multiple industries has put an unprecedented strain on shipping, and the logjam shows few signs of easing. 

In recent months, ships have stacked up at ports worldwide, waiting weeks to deliver their imported goods. Likewise, demand for flatbed trucks and dry vans has skyrocketed, resulting in longer delivery timeframes and significant logistical entanglements. 

 

According to the American Trucking Associations, a national trade association for the trucking industry, manufacturing output is expected to rise by 7.2% in 2021. The transportation system’s capacity is being tested, and for those shipping food, it’s becoming an even tougher task to get goods from point A to point B. The ever-increasing rate of online sales and consumers’ growing expectations of quick delivery have resulted in a reprioritization of what is shipped and when.

 

The American Trucking Associations anticipates a 3.7% rise in food manufacturing this year, and U.S. exports of food could climb as much as 10%. 

 

It’s only in times like these that massive shifts in behavior manifest themselves, and the idea of decentralizing the food supply chain begins to look better and better. For businesses that grow produce in the communities where that food is then consumed, the shipping challenges are a peripheral issue.

 

FarmBox Foods, a Colorado-based company that builds automated farms inside repurposed shipping containers and sends them to food deserts around the world, has had its eye on decentralization from the start. The company’s leaders say empowering communities by placing container farms within a short distance of consumers could have positive ramifications on low-income populations for decades to come, and render supply chain woes inconsequential.

“We’ve got an unpredictable supply chain with a bunch of variables, and the expenses can add up quickly,” said Rusty Walker, CEO of FarmBox Foods and a veteran of the supply chain industry. “Our solution makes things more reliable and eliminates some of these vulnerabilities.”

The strategic placement of controlled-climate container farms in places that have traditionally lacked access to farm-fresh food has side benefits, like lower cost for food, a reduction in the burning of fossil fuels to transport goods, a longer shelf life for the produce, educational opportunities for local populations, and greater nutritional bang for your buck because the fruits and vegetables won’t lose any of their nutritional value while in transit.

It also allows consumers to sidestep the headaches that arise when a backlog in the shipping industry puts everyone else at a standstill.s

Non-Profit Organizations & FarmBox Foods

Farming may not seem like an obvious choice for a non-profit organization, but there are huge potential benefits for your organization and the communities you serve when you team up with FarmBox Foods.

Community Engagement

If placed on a school campus, students can enjoy hands-on lessons in agriculture. Children who help to grow fruits, vegetables and mushrooms are not only more likely to eat healthier foods, but they learn about the benefits of a healthy diet. Multiple studies have proven that hands-on learning not only increases test scores but also improves attentiveness in children. There is also the added benefit that the food grown can be sold in the school cafeteria with the proceeds funding extracurricular activities and school clubs.

Employment

You will also have the opportunity to hire local residents to work on the farm providing employment and increasing community involvement with your non-profit organization. Additionally, surplus yields can be sold at a local farmer’s market, providing fresh produce to the community and boosting the local economy.

Tax Exemption

Our farms qualify for tax exemptions under Tax Code 179, one of the few government incentives for small and large businesses alike. This tax code allows businesses to deduct the full price of qualifying equipment from their organization’s gross income in the first year of operation.

Start-up

Don’t know where to begin? FarmBox foods has a highly skilled setup crew that will take care of installing the farm and training your team. We offer training guides, online learning options, and quick guides to help you along the way. Our team is ready to assist you with all aspects of running your new farm, so reach out to us today to get started!