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.

How to Meet Food Demand for a Growing Global Population

Meeting global food needs in the coming years is going to require some ingenuity, marrying a combination of strategic changes and innovations across various aspects of the food system.

As you might have guessed, sustainable agriculture practices are at the forefront of what FarmBox Foods is doing as a company to help move that needle. It’s part of the company’s mission to promote and adopt sustainable farming practices, such as hyperlocal growing, conservation agriculture, and concepts that help minimize environmental impact and enhance long-term soil fertility. FarmBox is well aware that it’s not the entire solution, but we endeavor to play our part to the extent possible.

There are several things happening outside of our purview that we wholly support, among them: embracing precision agriculture technologies including sensors, drones and data analytics. But where we’re strongest is: optimizing resource use, improving crop yields, diversifying available foods, reducing food waste, and lowering the carbon footprint associated with agriculture.

Perhaps the company’s strongest contribution is in helping to shore up the protein needs of communities in need. Conditions are such that raising livestock has become a gamble in some areas of the world, particularly where drought plays a large role. So what can be done? Large-scale mushroom farming in a container is filling those nourishment gaps.

Much work is being done to invest in crucial research and development of climate-resilient crop varieties that can withstand extreme weather conditions, helping ensure stable yields in the face of climate change.

Many nations are also implementing efficient water management practices, including drip irrigation and rainwater harvesting, to conserve water resources and address water scarcity challenges.

Developing and implementing strategies to reduce food loss and waste at every stage of the food supply chain, from production and storage to distribution and consumption, is also a key area of interest for FarmBox Foods, given that our model is meant to empower individual communities with the ability to grow their own food.

Governments worldwide are fostering international collaboration and partnerships to share knowledge, technologies, and resources to address global food challenges collectively. They’re implementing policies that promote sustainable agriculture, support research and innovation, and incentivize environmentally friendly practices. Likewise, more private sector entities are increasing education and awareness regarding sustainable and healthy food choices and promoting consumer understanding of the impact of their dietary habits on both personal health and the environment.

According to the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization, we will need to produce 60 percent more food to feed a world population of roughly 9.3 billion by 2050. It’s an ambitious goal with staggering consequences if we get it wrong. Addressing global food needs requires a holistic, integrated and coordinated approach that considers social, economic and environmental factors. Sustainable and resilient food systems will play a crucial role in ensuring food security for our growing global population. Now is the time for each individual and company to calculate where and how they can contribute.

The Long-Term Impacts of Indoor Agriculture

Container farming, a version of indoor farming also known as vertical farming, involves growing crops in controlled environments within shipping containers or other enclosed spaces. The advent of this technology, which relies on sensors to control the growing parameters, holds a lot of promise, especially as climate shifts continue to farmers and ranchers in traditional settings. While it’s difficult to predict the future with absolute certainty, it’s now possible identify several potential long-term impacts of container farming.

Sustainable agriculture: Container farming offers a more sustainable and efficient way to grow crops compared to traditional outdoor agriculture. By using less land, water, and pesticides, it can help reduce the environmental impact of agriculture. This could lead to a decrease in deforestation, habitat destruction and the use of harmful chemicals that end up in our food and drinking supply.

Local Food Production: Container farming allows for year-round production of fresh produce, regardless of the local climate. This can reduce the need for long-distance transportation of food and promote local food systems. It may also help address food security and reduce the carbon footprint associated with food distribution.

Improved Resource Efficiency: Container farms can make more efficient use of resources like water, energy, and space. They often use hydroponic or aeroponic systems, which consume less water than traditional soil-based farming. Advanced climate control and LED lighting systems can optimize energy use. Colorado-based FarmBox Foods uses pre-insulated to help energy draws.

Food Security: Container farming can play a crucial role in ensuring a stable food supply in areas with food scarcity or those affected by natural disasters. The ability to control growing conditions can help mitigate the effects of climate change and other environmental challenges.

Job Creation: The container farming industry is growing, creating jobs in areas such as plant science, engineering, data analysis, business planning, and farm management. This can contribute to local and regional economic development.

Technology Advancements: As container farming technologies continue to evolve, they may lead to breakthroughs in agriculture, such as improved crop genetics, pest and disease management, and data-driven decision-making. These advancements are expected to benefit traditional agriculture as well.

Reduced Food Waste: By enabling on-demand production and minimizing transportation distances, container farming can help reduce food waste — currently a significant global issue — because food arrives on the plates of consumers much sooner after being harvested.

Educational Opportunities: Container farming can serve as a valuable educational tool, teaching people about plant biology, technology, and sustainable farming practices. Schools, universities, and community organizations use container farms to engage students and the public, including the South Carolina Governor’s School of Science and Math, Delaware State University, the EPIC Campus in Littleton, Colo., and more to come.

Space Exploration: Container farming concepts have been explored for space missions, such as Mars colonization, where growing food in a controlled environment is essential due to harsh environmental conditions. Research in this area may have applications for future space exploration.

The long-term impact of container farming is likely to be positive, with the potential to transform agriculture, reduce its environmental footprint, and address food security issues. But it will depend on continued technological advancements, cost reductions and successful integration into existing food production systems for it to make a sizable impact as we head into an uncertain agricultural future.

FarmBox Foods Joins the International Phytobiomes Alliance

FarmBox Foods has joined the International Alliance for Phytobiomes Research as a sponsoring partner and is set to participate in groundbreaking studies that will examine sustainable food production.

The Phytobiomes Alliance facilitates and coordinates national and international research projects on phytobiomes to accelerate the sustainable production of food, feed, and fiber for all. The term “Phytobiome” refers to a plant growing in a specific environment (a biome), and all the geophysical and biological components that interact with this plant.

Colorado-based FarmBox Foods takes upcycled shipping containers and transforms them into controlled-climate container farms in which mushrooms, leafy greens, culinary herbs, micro greens, peppers, fodder, and other plants can be sustainably grown. This ground-breaking production solution provides an efficient way for local communities to grow healthy food, with low energy and water usage.

“We are thrilled to have FarmBox Foods join the Alliance,” said Kellye Eversole, the Alliance Executive Director.“Their innovative container farms are a perfect example of a phytobiome. FarmBox Foods’ expertise will be an invaluable addition to our scientific Coordinating Committee, helping us to advance our understanding of the various components impacting plant production in a closed environment as well as in the field. FarmBox Foods is also pioneering the production of livestock fodder in containers and we look forward to working with them to find plant/microbe-based solutions to challenges facing the livestock industry, such as the need to reduce methane production, increase overall livestock health, and improve feed efficiency.”

Joseph Cammack, FarmBox Foods Executive Vice President, will be joining the Alliance Coordinating Committee. This Committee identifies research, resource and technology gaps, establishes priorities, and develops strategic plans to achieve Alliance goals. Cammack will also be joining the Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) Working Group that is tasked with identifying major CEA challenges that could be addressed by phytobiomes research.

“The work that the Phytobiomes Alliance is doing is critically important as our world population surges and sustainable food production becomes more of a priority,” said Cammack. “We are excited to be involved in research that helps overcome challenges in our space and strengthens our industry as a whole.”

Over the next decades, understanding entire systems of phytobiomes will be critical to ensuring sustainable global food security in the context of population growth, climate change, the necessity to preserve biodiversity and natural resources, while maintaining or enhancing grower profitability. The Phytobiomes Alliance is working on addressing these challenges by establishing a foundation of knowledge on how phytobiome components interact and affect each other.

Transforming a Neighborhood with an Indoor Garden

What if traditional community gardens were expanded into indoor spaces, eliminating seasonal barriers from the equation?

Imagine for a moment having a weekly farmers’ market in your community throughout the entire year.

Most can only dream of such a scenario, as typical community gardens take root in May and close for the season in October (depending on where you live). Additionally, demand for space is persistently high and waiting lists can be years long. But what if the community garden was expanded into indoor spaces, eliminating seasonal barriers from the equation?

Residential community developers — as well as those who serve on boards that oversee the neighborhoods — know that acreage is at a premium, and dedicating enough space for a traditional farm can be a challenge.

But what if the farm took up only 320-square-feet of space?  

If you’ve ever considered bringing indoor growing to your community, read on. A controlled-climate container farm could be what you’ve been looking for.

Automated container farms can be placed in urban areas, close to consumers, meaning produce can be delivered quickly, thereby reducing the carbon footprint associated with food transport and increasing accessibility to fresh, locally grown produce.

Accessibility improves the diets and overall health of property owners, and because it’s protected inside, the produce is grown without the use of harmful pesticides.

Container farms use less water and energy than traditional farms. They can operate year-round, regardless of weather conditions, by using efficient LED lighting and controlled environments to optimize growing conditions. This can result in a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and water usage when compared to traditional farming methods. To take it a step further, tree seedlings can also be started in Vertical Hydroponic Farms made by FarmBox Foods and planted in the community later on, providing a full, get-your-hands-dirty experience for residents to play a part in bettering their subdivision.

Container farms can also provide educational opportunities for children and adults in the community. They can learn about sustainable farming practices, the benefits of locally grown produce, and how to grow their own food. The farms can create jobs in the community, and provide opportunities for entrepreneurship and small business development. They can also provide a new source of revenue for local farmers.

Aside from the aforementioned, a farm that operates year-round is a differentiator for housing developers who want to stand out from the rest. It shows a willingness to think critically about infrastructure that bolsters a neighborhood’s status, and it can be done for relatively little upfront cost. The farms can also be wrapped with a high-resolution design that makes it fit in with its surroundings.

Given the lengthy lifespan of container farms — 25 years or more — it’s an amenity that can become a community gathering place for decades to come.

Innovating and Advancing Through Diversity

The word “diversity” has taken on new meaning and greater significance in recent years, with businesses incorporating goals related to diversity and inclusion into their operations. But what does it really mean, and how is it influencing the trajectory of certain industries?

While some corporations pay lip-service to the idea and implement strategies simply to check a box, its role in CEA (controlled-environment agriculture) is outsized, and there’s widespread recognition that paying closer attention to ensuring diversity in all aspects can be an asset throughout the indoor ag community via job creation, food security, education and bridging long-standing equity gaps.

A diverse workforce, for example, brings together individuals with different backgrounds and experiences, bringing fresh and unique ideas and solutions to the table. This results in increased adaptability, and a broader range of perspectives, which can undoubtedly drive business growth and success while making a positive impact.

Varied backgrounds can help identify potential risks and opportunities that may have otherwise been overlooked. Diverse teams are also more likely to engage in constructive debates and discussions, leading to more well-rounded decisions. To take it a step further, employees today seek inclusive work environments where they feel valued and respected, and such environments are more likely to result in higher levels of employee engagement and retention. In turn, those employees are also more likely to be motivated, loyal, and committed to the success of the business.

When FarmBox Foods was in its infancy, it recognized the value of bringing different perspectives to its board room, and hired Derrick Holmes, who serves as the company’s chief diversity officer. His role, in part, is to help guide our strategies and establish closer ties with communities that have traditionally been underserved and underrepresented. Providing those communities with access to nutritious food has been at the forefront of FarmBox’s business plan; the company recognizes that providing something as fundamental as food security allows a community to thrive in other ways. This is something the company wants to be a part of.

As a privately-owned company, FarmBox has flexibility to pursue projects that it feels will have generational impacts, even if they’re not as lucrative as other projects. Each individual project is meaningful in its own way, and it would be foolish to conduct operations with a one-size-fits-all approach. The technology that FarmBox Foods has developed has a unique ability to transform communities and bridge the wealth gaps that persist in the U.S. and elsewhere. Deploying container farms where they’re needed most is, in FarmBox’s estimation, not only good for business, but good for the world.

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.

Drought, flood impacts create uncertainty for food producers

Drought, flood impacts create uncertainty for food producers

210114_Container Farming Desert_FINAL UPDATE-min

An alarming pattern has emerged in the farming industry over the last two decades, and experts believe the impact on food production won’t relent anytime soon.

A recent analysis of data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that payouts to U.S. farmers for crops destroyed by droughts and flooding climbed by more than 340% between 1995 and 2020. During that time period, farmers received over $143.5 billion in federal crop insurance payments, according to the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit that analyzes research data and spotlights breakthrough findings to inform decisions that govern everyday life. 

While the conditions threaten the current livelihoods of farmers across the country, there are also intangible, permanent effects that can’t be ignored, such as the exodus of families who have been farming for decades and, in some cases, centuries. They’re simply giving up due to variables that are beyond their control. 

The EWG points out that while crop insurance provides a crucial safety net for farmers, the program is doing little to mitigate climate-related risks. Taxpayers pick up about 60% of premiums, which means farmers cover the other 40% to get a crop insurance policy. EWG says the “costs are expected to go up even more, as climate change causes even more unpredictable weather conditions,” according to an article on CommonDreams.org.  

This inevitability has decision-makers at the federal and state level considering drastic alternative measures, especially ones that help farmers adapt to changing conditions, enabling them to produce crops regularly without external factors.

One of those solutions is farming in controlled environments that eliminate outside impacts and promise reliable yields. Shipping containers are being repurposed and outfitted with a network of sensors and high-tech systems that regulate temperature, humidity, nutrient concentrations, watering and lighting. They enable farmers to grow food year-round — regardless of weather or climate — and drastically reduce the amount of water needed to grow crops, because the water is recycled and filtered and not lost to evaporation or transpiration.

“We see ourselves not as a replacement for traditional farming, but rather a tool that allows farmers to have that steady source of income throughout the year, without the stress,” said Rusty Walker, CEO of a Colorado-based company called FarmBox Foods, which designs, manufactures and sells enclosed hydroponic farms.

The containerized farms are also a critical element for crop production on islands, which currently import the vast majority of their food. The automated farms essentially add acreage to an island for the purpose of food production, cutting out potential supply chain issues and shipping costs that inflate food prices.

As Congress develops a new farm bill in 2023, the EWG is calling on lawmakers to consider focusing on “how to effectively fund farm programs so that farmers can adapt to and fight the climate crisis.”

FarmBox Foods Unveils Plans for Hydroponic Fodder Farm

FarmBox Foods is developing a hydroponic fodder farm that will be sold beginning this year. It will produce roughly 1,000 pounds of fodder per day.

FarmBox Foods Unveils Plans for Hydroponic Fodder Farm

hydroponic fodder farm
Fodder is used as a dietary supplement for livestock, including beef cattle and dairy cows. Just look how much that cow on the left is enjoying it!