What ‘Supporting Local Farms’ Really Means

We often hear the phrase “Support your local farmers.” But what does that really mean?

Well, it contributes to the economic vitality of local communities in a major way. When consumers choose locally produced goods, they help sustain crucial local farming operations, preserving agricultural land and maintaining rural (and urban) livelihoods. In turn, this fosters a stronger economy by generating employment opportunities and encouraging entrepreneurship within the community.

Supporting local farms also promotes environmental sustainability. Locally sourced produce often requires less transportation, reducing the carbon footprint associated with long-distance shipping. This can lead to lower greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to a more eco-friendly and sustainable food system. Many local farms prioritize sustainable farming practices, promoting biodiversity and soil health, too. These elements of the operations can’t be overstated.

Buying from local farms often means fresher and more flavorful products as well. Locally grown produce is typically harvested at peak ripeness, offering consumers higher nutritional value and better taste. This connection to fresh, seasonal ingredients can also foster a greater appreciation for the diversity of crops and promote a healthier diet, while ensuring that people have a longer period of time to eat the food before it goes to waste.

Supporting local farms plays a role in maintaining food security. By diversifying the sources of food production and distribution, local communities become less vulnerable to disruptions in global supply chains, like what we saw during the COVID-19 pandemic. This localized approach helps build resilience against external factors that could impact food availability and affordability.

In a social context, backing local farms fosters a sense of community. Farmers markets and direct-to-consumer sales allow for direct interactions between producers and consumers, creating a stronger bond and understanding of where food comes from. This connection promotes a shared commitment to sustaining local agriculture and can strengthen community ties.

In short, supporting local farms goes beyond the act of buying food; it’s a holistic investment in the economic, environmental and social well-being of communities. Choosing locally sourced products empowers local farmers, promotes sustainability, enhances the quality of food and contributes to the resilience and cohesion of communities. What more can you ask for?

Sustainable Food Production Isn’t Just Possible, It’s Inevitable

The idea of adopting sustainable practices in food production to address critical environmental, social and economic challenges has until recently been seen as a pipe dream, an impenetrable barrier to progress.

There’s concern about costs and whether implementation would be widespread enough to result in noticeable change. But as tech has advanced and prices have slowly come down, this is something that’s within our grasp and something we should expect to see in our lifetimes.

Sustainable food production minimizes environmental degradation by promoting practices that conserve soil fertility, reduce water usage, and mitigate the use of harmful pesticides and fertilizers. Prioritizing ecological balance helps safeguard biodiversity, maintain ecosystems and combat climate change. This is crucial for ensuring the long-term viability of our planet and securing the availability of natural resources for future generations. We don’t want to be remembered as the generation that had the opportunity to do something, but squandered it.

Sustainable food production has significant social implications. It fosters equitable distribution of resources, promotes fair labor practices and supports local communities. Sustainable agriculture often involves small-scale, community-based farming that empowers local producers and reduces dependence on large-scale, industrialized farming systems. This not only strengthens local economies but also enhances food security by diversifying sources and reducing vulnerability to external shocks, such as the supply chain disruptions that crippled our food systems during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Adopting sustainable practices in food production is essential for addressing global food security challenges. As the world’s population continues to grow, ensuring a stable and sufficient food supply is going to become more difficult. Sustainable agriculture emphasizes efficiency and resilience, optimizing yields while minimizing negative impacts on the environment. By embracing methods such as agroecology, organic farming, and precision agriculture, we can create a more robust and resilient food system capable of meeting the nutritional needs of a growing population without compromising the health of the planet. Again, this is achievable with a little bit of political will and a whole lot of education.

Sustainable food production is also economically prudent. While initial investments may be required to transition to sustainable practices, the long-term benefits far outweigh the costs. Sustainable agriculture, like farming in controlled-climate shipping containers, reduces reliance on expensive inputs, maintains soil health for traditional growing, and promotes resource efficiency, leading to increased productivity and decreased production costs over time.

It opens up new market opportunities as consumers increasingly prioritize sustainably produced goods, creating a positive feedback loop that encourages businesses to adopt environmentally and socially responsible practices. It’s already happening in the U.S. People have shown a willingness to incorporate changes into their own lives, and they’re more cognizant about where their food comes from. Taking a holistic approach isn’t some esoteric, “hippie-dippie” idea anymore. Creating an equitable future for both people and the planet, while expanding access to nutritionally dense foods, isn’t just achievable, it’s imperative.

Why Localized Food Production Matters

Local food production, or “localized agriculture,” offers a range of benefits that can have positive impacts on individuals, communities, and the environment. gourmet mushrooms

Freshness and Flavor Matter!

When food is grown nearby, like in a shipping container farm, it can be harvested at its peak ripeness and delivered to consumers more quickly, which results in fresher and more flavorful produce compared to items that have traveled long distances.

Nutritional Value

Fresher produce typically retains more of its nutritional value because it spends less time in transit and storage.

Reduced Food Miles

Growing food locally reduces the distance it needs to travel from farm to plate. This reduces the carbon footprint associated with transportation, helping to mitigate climate change.

Support for the Local Economy

Local agriculture supports local farmers, creating jobs and contributing to the economic vitality of the community. It keeps money circulating within the local economy, which can have a multiplier effect.

Community Engagement

Growing food near the consumer often fosters a sense of community. Customers can connect with the farmers who grow their food, fostering relationships and trust.

Food Security

Hyperlocal food systems can enhance food security by reducing reliance on distant sources of food. In times of disruption, such as natural disasters or supply chain issues, local food production can ensure a more stable food supply.

Preservation of Open Space

Supporting local agriculture can help protect open spaces and agricultural lands from development, preserving the rural character of communities.

Customization and Diversity

Local farmers may be more responsive to consumer preferences, allowing for a greater variety of crops and specialty products. This can lead to a diverse and unique food offering, in addition to food that’s culturally relevant to the community as a whole.

Reduced Food Waste

Because local food doesn’t have to travel long distances, it is less likely to spoil in transit. This can help reduce food waste, which is a significant issue in many parts of the world. Around one-third of food grown in the U.S. goes to waste.

Cultural and Culinary Connections

Local food systems often celebrate regional culinary traditions and cultural diversity. Consumers can enjoy foods that are unique to their area and learn about local food traditions.

Seasonal Eating

Eating locally encourages seasonal eating, as consumers rely on what is currently in season in their region, which promotes a healthier and more diverse diet.

Health Benefits

Fresher produce can be more nutritious and may encourage people to consume more fruits and vegetables, leading to improved health outcomes.

Transparency and Accountability

With shorter supply chains, it’s often easier for consumers to trace the origin of their food and ensure it meets certain quality and safety standards.

While there are numerous benefits to growing food close to the consumer, it’s important to recognize that not all types of food can be grown locally in all regions due to climate and other factors. Therefore, a balanced approach that combines local production with responsible global sourcing may be necessary to meet all food needs sustainably. We will always need traditional farming to grow staple crops like corn and wheat!

Remediate Soil with Mycelium Substrate

Soil remediation is a critical environmental practice aimed at restoring or improving the quality of soil that has been contaminated or degraded by various pollutants, such as heavy metals, pesticides, petroleum products and industrial chemicals. The importance of soil remediation cannot be overstated due to its numerous ecological, agricultural, and human health benefits. Mycelium substrates, specifically mycoremediation, have emerged as a promising and sustainable approach to assist in soil remediation.

Here are some key points on the importance of soil remediation and how mycelium substrates can help:

  1. Environmental Protection: Contaminated soil can have severe adverse effects on the environment. It can lead to soil erosion, groundwater pollution, and harm to local ecosystems. Soil remediation helps mitigate these negative impacts, contributing to overall environmental protection and conservation efforts.
  2. Agricultural Productivity: Healthy soil is essential for agriculture, as it provides the necessary nutrients and support for plant growth. Soil contamination can lead to reduced crop yields and food safety concerns. Remediated soil can restore fertile ground for farming, ensuring food security and quality.
  3. Human Health: Contaminated soil can pose serious health risks to humans, especially if the contaminants leach into the water supply or are taken up by plants in the food chain. Soil remediation helps safeguard public health by reducing exposure to harmful substances.
  4. Biodiversity: Many soil-dwelling organisms, including microorganisms, insects, and plants, depend on a healthy soil environment. Soil remediation efforts aim to protect and restore these ecosystems, supporting biodiversity and ecological balance.
  5. Land Reclamation: Remediated soil can be repurposed for various land uses, including residential, commercial, and recreational purposes. This repurposing of land can revitalize urban areas and promote sustainable development.

Now, let’s explore how mycelium substrates plays a role in soil remediation, which FarmBox Foods customer BLH Farm has been doing since acquiring a Gourmet Mushroom Farm:

Mycoremediation: Mycoremediation is a bioremediation technique that employs fungal mycelium, the thread-like vegetative part of fungi, to break down or absorb contaminants in the soil. Mycelium has several properties that make it effective in soil remediation:

  • Biodegradation: Mycelium can secrete enzymes that break down complex organic molecules, making them more easily metabolized by other microorganisms and reducing the toxicity of contaminants.
  • Metal Accumulation: Some species of fungi have the ability to accumulate heavy metals in their mycelium. This can help to immobilize or concentrate metals, preventing them from leaching into groundwater or affecting plant growth.
  • Soil Structure Improvement: Mycelium can also improve soil structure by binding soil particles together, increasing soil porosity, and enhancing water retention.
  • Carbon Sequestration: As fungi grow and decompose organic matter, they contribute to carbon sequestration, which can help mitigate climate change.
  • Low Environmental Impact: Mycoremediation is often considered an environmentally friendly approach because it typically requires minimal external inputs and doesn’t produce harmful byproducts.

While mycelium substrates offer promising solutions for soil remediation, it’s essential to note that their effectiveness depends on various factors, including the type and extent of contamination, the specific fungi species used, and environmental conditions. That being said, mycoremediation is often used in combination with other remediation techniques to achieve optimal results. Additionally, research and development in this field continue to expand our understanding of how fungi can be harnessed for sustainable soil remediation practices.

Reflecting on an Uplifting Fundraiser for an AgTech Program

The smiles said it all.

We don’t often have the opportunity to see people working in our farms or enjoying fresh produce grown in a FarmBox. But that changed with our sponsorship of “Dancing with the Pueblo Starz” on July 15.

The event included active participation by individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities who work in the farm that was refurbished by FarmBox Foods and purchased by the nonprofit, Pueblo Diversified Industries. The Vertical Hydroponic Farm is used as the centerpiece of its Fresh Greens Colorado business, which doubles as a workforce development center for this underserved population.

The night was nothing short of magical. PDI and the seven couples who performed the featured dance routines raised $75,000, which will go toward supporting their agtech program.  Eric Gostenik (Director of National Sales at FarmBox) had the opportunity to dine with one of the developmentally disabled farmers and witness his reaction when he saw a video of himself talking about working in the farm. The farmers also participated in their own rehearsed dance routines.

Seeing this community rally around their own and around a program with infinite potential to transform lives was an opportunity of a lifetime. It brought the reasons why we do what we do to the forefront. We had the chance to meet city and county leaders, and I got to share a little bit about our company and our mission to the 600+ attendees.

To me, this is only the beginning of our work in Pueblo. There’s a significant need for food access, and when you can include a subset of people who find purpose and joy in helping others, it benefits everyone. We get to tell these stories and, ideally, show people outside of the company just who we are and what we believe.

This partnership was wholy a team effort. Eric shepherded PDI through the sales process, Jason Brown (VP of Deployment) and Jesse Gantzler (Quality Control Manager) put in a lot of work moving and refurbishing the VHF to be in ready condition, and they along with farm trainers Nick Brooks and Mollie Sullivan have provided support during operational challenges. Joseph Cammack (Executive VP) and Eric attended the Saturday night event in Pueblo and represented the company well while thinking about future partnerships with those sitting at our tables. I (Chris Michlewicz, VP of Communications) nervously gave a speech about who and what FarmBox, why we sponsored the event, and I even managed not to tear up when talking about the uplifting videos of those who work in the farms.

This is the ideal customer. They want to do good in the world, they know the impact of our container farms, and they’re serving as our ambassadors in Pueblo. This is what it’s all about.

Farmers Adapting to Changing Times and Conditions

The shifting climate is having a big impact on the agricultural sector, and farmers around the world are being forced to adapt to numerous challenges. Here are some of the challenges that farmers are facing due to climate change:

  1. Changing weather patterns: Climate change is causing shifts in weather patterns, leading to extreme weather events such as droughts, floods, heatwaves, and storms. These changes can damage crops, reduce yields, and affect the timing of planting and harvesting.
  2. Water scarcity: Changing rainfall patterns can result in water scarcity, making it harder for farmers to irrigate their crops. This can lead to reduced yields and even crop failure.
  3. Increased pests and diseases: Rising temperatures and changing weather patterns can lead to the proliferation of pests and diseases that can damage crops and reduce yields.
  4. Soil degradation: Climate change can cause soil degradation, making it less fertile and less able to support healthy crops. This can result in lower yields and reduced food quality.
  5. Reduced biodiversity: Climate change is causing shifts in ecosystems, which can reduce biodiversity and disrupt natural pollination cycles, leading to lower crop yields.
  6. Financial pressures: Climate change can lead to increased costs for farmers, such as higher irrigation costs, increased pest management expenses, and greater investments in technology and infrastructure to adapt to changing conditions.

What Can We Do?

  1. Promote sustainable farming practices: Encouraging sustainable farming practices such as conservation agriculture, crop rotation, and agroforestry can help to improve soil health and reduce the need for fertilizers and pesticides. This can also help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture.
  2. Develop and promote drought-resistant crops: Developing crops that are more tolerant of drought conditions can help farmers adapt to changing rainfall patterns and reduce water usage.
  3. Improve water management: Improved water management techniques, such as drip irrigation and rainwater harvesting, can help farmers to conserve water and reduce the impact of droughts.
  4. Expand access to climate information: Providing farmers with access to reliable climate information can help them make better decisions about when to plant, what crops to grow, and how to manage their farms.
  5. Support research and development: Investing in research and development to improve agricultural productivity, develop new crop varieties, and enhance soil health can help farmers adapt to changing conditions and improve their resilience.
  6. Provide financial support: Providing financial support, such as subsidies or insurance, can help farmers to manage the financial risks associated with climate change and adopt new practices.
  7. Reduce greenhouse gas emissions: Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture through practices such as conservation tillage, improved nutrient management, and the use of renewable energy can help to mitigate the impact of climate change on agriculture.

Educating Future Generations Using Innovation, Hands-On Learning

Educating Future Generations Using Innovation, Hands-On Learning

GSSM 4

Is there any greater gift than bestowing life-changing knowledge to younger generations?

For schools that focus on science, technology, engineering and math — or those that simply think outside the box when it comes to how they educate their students — it’s a no-brainer. The trend of implementing curriculums that emphasize hands-on learning is on an upward trajectory, and it shows no signs of slowing.

The Governor’s School of Science and Mathematics in South Carolina is a prime example of how to promote greater interest in learning among all students, including those who struggle in a traditional, straight-out-of-the-textbook setting. The high school recently began growing in a Vertical Hydroponic Farm made by FarmBox Foods that will serve as an interactive classroom for years to come. It’s housed inside an upcycled shipping container that’s been outfitted with all of the plumbing, electrical components and sensor technology needed to grow food.

Oftentimes, engagement is the key that unlocks the door to improved attentiveness, and producing something tangible hammers home the potential impacts. When a student is able to hold, say, a fresh head of lettuce that was grown via ingenuity, it can spark something greater: intense motivation to learn more. They suddenly — and satisfyingly — have used both existing and newfound knowledge of science and technology to grow fresh, nutritious food, perhaps for those who face hunger in their community. The students can literally hold the real-world impact in their hands.

GSSM’s Hydroponic Research Lab, however, isn’t necessarily centered on what it can produce, but how it produces, and, perhaps more importantly, why. It’s a venue for all-encompassing lessons in everything from civics and social responsibility to inventing new indoor farming techniques and creating avenues for environmental stewardship that previously didn’t exist. The educational promise is boundless, as are the practical applications that result.

In many respects, encouraging initial failure provides interdisciplinary opportunities for critical thinking and problem solving. GSSM’s students will have the ability to experiment with different controlled environments, study the research findings, and help answer questions about its effects on the agricultural community in its region, state and beyond. The lab will also help students to develop and standardize hydroponic research protocols for model plants used in plant science, plants of interest and plants beneficial to the area.

“The GSSM Hydroponic Research Lab provides unprecedented opportunities for students to engage in meaningful research on issues of worldwide significance right here on the GSSM campus in Hartsville, SC,” said GSSM Director of Research and Inquiry, Dr. Josh Witten. “Because this lab represents a unique research resource, it will also be a platform for GSSM students, faculty, and staff to collaborate with researchers beyond our campus. These innovative and immersive experiences are a hallmark of the GSSM education, which prepares students to become the problem solvers of tomorrow.”

The container farm contains elements of — and applications for — biology, chemistry, environmental science, engineering, computer science, robotics and economics, and is ‘being used as a teaching tool to engage their creativity,” the school said.

Creating a curriculum

Within the next 1-2 years, FarmBox Foods plans to roll out a curriculum specific to each controlled-climate farm it manufactures. The Colorado company is fortunate to be surrounded by educators of all types who have offered to contribute their expertise to the endeavor, largely because they can see the enormous potential. The goal is to create plug-and-play lesson plans that fit with current science and technology curriculums.

User-friendly automation within the Vertical Hydroponic Farm puts control in the hands of the students and teachers. For example, they can tweak the watering schedule or crank up the humidity and witness first-hand its effects on the plants, and learn precisely why it has such a big influence on the growing process. They can also explore how plants that historically haven’t been able to grow in low humidity can survive.

Higher learning

One of FarmBox Foods’ prototype hydroponic container farms was delivered to the campus of Delaware State University in Fall 2022. Consider for a moment all of the different academic disciplines and tracks that a single farm can touch, from marketing and business development to mechanics and horticulture. 

“We have a lot of interested clients looking for ag-tech solutions to bring to schools,” said Michael Choi, owner of Ponix, which equips indoor farms with specialized software. “It offers a compelling story for schools — how they can work with the community, and offer things like workforce training. It’s how you program around it.”

Choi, who sold the used farm to Delaware State University, said they will use it for both food security and educational purposes.

“I’ve been working with a network of schools for many years, and that particular school wanted to move forward quickly,” he said.

Valor Christian High School, in Highlands Ranch, Colo., has a project-based learning environment that is helping to lead the next generation of agriculturists to the greener pastures of the future.

The Applied STEM Program, led by director Rick Russon, enables students to put into practice what they learn in the classroom, preparing them for successful careers in a number of industries, including agriculture. Members of Valor’s agriculture club, in particular, have an infectious enthusiasm for ideas that combine brain power with a desire to make a positive impact on the world, and it’s already leading to groundbreaking results. For their capstone project, Russon and the club members built a four-tube vertical hydroponic unit using prototype parts donated by FarmBox Foods.

The Applied STEM Program is aiming to modify the four-tube hydroponic system and build several models to bring them into food deserts to feed people in need. Valor Christian sends nearly 40 teams throughout the world each year on missions, and Russon’s hope is that they can help deploy a workable system in areas with little arable land and few natural resources.

The Valor-based vertical hydroponic setup continues to draw interest from students and faculty who want to grow their own farm-fresh greens and help others learn the science behind the hydroponic growing process.

By the numbers

  • The farms are housed inside an insulated, 40-foot-long shipping container
  • A Vertical Hydroponic Farm — or VHF — produces 200-250 lbs. of veggies each week; a Gourmet Mushroom Farm yields around 400 lbs. of mushrooms per week
  • The farms have a 320-square-foot footprint
  • A Vertical Hydroponic Farm can grow approximately 8,000 plants in various stages of growth simultaneously (4,100 in the grow walls, 3,800+ in the seed table)
  • Because of its ability to capture, filter and recycle water, the Vertical Hydroponic Farm uses around 5 gallons of water per day
  • The VHF yields the equivalent of approximately 2.5 acres of farmland annually
  • The VHF grows peppers, grape/cherry tomatoes, microgreens, tree seedlings, as well as a variety of leafy greens, like lettuce, kale, cabbage and culinary herbs
  • Estimated labor required for a VHF is 15-20 hours per week. Labor for the Gourmet Mushroom Farm is about 30 hours per week

Farming Solutions for a Sustainable (and Less Scary) Future

Farming Solutions are needed – It seems every day you come across a news story that paints a very bleak future for traditional farming and the consumers who benefit from it.

We’ll briefly explore the many challenges facing the agricultural industry, but we’ll also posit some potential ways for farming operations large and small to adapt to changing times and conditions.

Shifting climate patterns are making it vastly more difficult to predict whether a crop will make it to harvest. Heat waves, hail storms, cold snaps and floods have become more pervasive and intense in recent years. Even crops that may not be directly affected by catastrophes, like the severe drought currently gripping the western portion of the U.S., are being indirectly impacted by residual factors, like smoke from wildfires.

We’re also facing other crippling issues without a foreseeable fix. Supply chains that support agriculture have been stretched to their limit since the beginning of the pandemic for a variety of reasons, including transportation availability, labor shortages, and associated delays affecting raw material sourcing. And the skyrocketing cost of fertilizer is further complicating matters for traditional farming operations and having an outsized impact on already-thin profit margins.

But what if there was a way to circumvent these issues using innovations in agtech? It sounds impossible, and while it comes with its own set of challenges, indoor growing, especially in urban areas, could be a big part of the answer going forward. 

Science and tech have come a long way in the last decade (hello, sensor technology!), allowing growers to do much more with much less in a smaller footprint. And hyperlocal farming means produce grows near the consumer, eliminating supply chain-related woes. Instead of spending the first half of its shelf life in transit, veggies get to the end user much quicker, resulting in less food waste. Local growing also reduces the need to burn fossil fuels to get food to its destination, and empowers communities to gain more control over their own food supply.

It’s hard to put a value on security and reliability, and we certainly won’t attempt to, but controlled-environment agriculture allows people to harvest large yields year-round without external variables getting in the way. There’s also no need for fertilizers or pesticides, which takes possible contamination of drinking water out of the equation. 

The practice is gaining momentum worldwide and already having an impact on sourcing for grocery chains, hotels, hospitals, restaurants and food banks. Likewise, farmers are embracing the technology because it provides a security blanket in uncertain times.