FarmBox Foods launches indoor farm that grows livestock feed

Trays of hydroponic fodder growing in an indoor farm.

FarmBox Foods Launches Indoor Farm That Grows Livestock Feed

Trays of hydroponic fodder growing in an indoor farm.

FarmBox Foods LLC is excited to announce the official launch of its Hydroponic Fodder Farm.

The company hosted a public open house on Sept. 27 at our home base in Sedalia, CO. Guided tours of the new indoor farm — the third product line offered by FarmBox Foods — were provided. Attendees also received a tour of the company’s other tech-assisted, containerized farms: the Vertical Hydroponic Farm and Gourmet Mushroom Farm.

What exactly is fodder? It’s a nutrient-dense hay that’s used as a dietary supplement for horses, cows, pigs, goats, chickens, sheep, rabbits and alpacas.

(Want to learn more about FarmBox Foods? Watch our July appearance on ABC News here)

By growing fodder on site year-round, farmers and ranchers can avoid supply chain disruptions, sourcing issues and spikes in hay prices. The controlled-climate farms provide a reliable, hyperlocal source of fresh food while shielding the barley fodder from weather and climate impacts, including drought, heat waves, freezes and floods. The farms are housed inside upcycled, insulated shipping containers outfitted with plumbing, electrical and sensors to control conditions inside. The 320 square-foot farms also capture, filter and recycle water for maximum water efficiency. 

Protein-rich fodder improves the overall health of livestock, supplements hydration and adds weight to beef cattle. It also promotes the production of better-quality milk for dairy cows and goats, improves fertility rates, reduces the likelihood of illness, and decreases methane output because of its superior digestibility compared to traditional alfalfa hay.

Because barley fodder requires only a 7-day growth cycle, a staggered schedule allows farmers and ranchers to harvest around 880 pounds of fodder per day.

What makes FarmBox Foods a green-oriented company?

A cow eating hydroponic fodder

What makes FarmBox Foods a green-oriented company?

A cow eating hydroponic fodder
We use only upcycled shipping containers.
We give used, insulated shipping containers a new life: growing food at scale in areas that struggle with reliable cultivation and/or access. By outfitting them with the components to grow produce, the repurposed containers are kept out of landfills and scrap heaps.
 
The farms we build are designed to promote efficient water usage.
We capture, filter and reuse water in both our Hydroponic Fodder Farm and our Vertical Hydroponic Farm, which requires only about 5 gallons of water per day. Water is often lost to evaporation and transpiration in traditional farm settings. By recycling the water, our farms get the most out of every drop. In times of severe drought and diminishing water supplies, this efficiency is critically important. 
 
The farms were built to reduce energy usage associated with agricultural production.
Our Vertical Hydroponic Farm uses around 190 kwh per day, the energy equivalent of two loads of laundry. The Gourmet Mushroom Farm uses even less, drawing an average of only 80 kilowatt-hours of electricity each day. High-efficiency, low-energy LED lights are used in FarmBox containers to reduce energy consumption.
 
Reduced need for fossil fuels.
Every kilogram/pound of food waste has a corresponding waste factor for energy, labor, water, carbon emissions, etc. It takes a lot to get produce from point A to point B, including diesel fuel to power trucks and trains. Transporting goods across long distances could be a thing of the past, as our portable container farms enable people to grow food near the consumer, thereby reducing emissions and expenses. Hyper-local growing almost entirely removes the supply chain — and its ongoing issues — from the equation.
 
Indoor farms don’t require the use of pesticides.
Because our farms are enclosed, they’re protected from many of the variables that keep traditional farmers up at night, like drought, flooding, heat waves and hail. But it also prevents impacts from pests, and therefore, pesticides are not required in our farms. As a result, the water discharged from the Vertical Hydroponic Farms and Hydroponic Fodder Farms we build does not contribute to groundwater contamination.
 
Fodder consumption by livestock reduces methane output.
Barley fodder is easier to digest than traditional alfalfa hay and other nutritional supplements, and because of this, less methane is emitted into the atmosphere. We’re in the process of gathering more specific data to quantify the reduction of methane from different types of animals, and how that reduction corresponds with their respective intake of protein-rich fodder.
 
Growing near the consumer reduces the likelihood of food waste.
After being harvested, produce grown in traditional outdoor settings often spends a few days on trucks and in distribution centers before it arrives at the store. Hyperlocal growing helps fresh veggies arrive on consumers’ plates and in their refrigerators much sooner — often within 24 hours of being harvested. The produce maintains its shelf life, which provides a longer period of time to eat the food. This results in less food waste at the consumer level.
 
Our farms can run off solar power.
Anyone who wants to grow nutrient-dense food off-grid can do so by hooking their farm up to a small solar grid. 
 
Compost from our Gourmet Mushroom Farms helps promote soil health.
The spent substrate from FarmBox Foods’ GMF showroom model is donated to the local community to be used as nutrient-rich compost. The seedling pods and spent mushroom substrate can be used for further plant-growing compost once they are removed from the farms. The spent mushroom substrate, in particular, is quite sought after for this purpose. These eco-friendly by-products can also be incorporated into the soil, and the substrate will continue to grow mushrooms if properly managed.
 
Soil rejuvenation and less need for agricultural acreage.
Millions of acres of America’s traditionally fertile soil have been stripped of vital nutrients, and farmers are compelled to implement crop rotation and remediation steps like composting to regenerate agricultural land. A FarmBox occupies only 320 square-feet of space (they can also be stacked), does not need soil, and allows farmers to revitalize oft-used ag soil.
Furthermore, clear-cutting forests to make room for agriculture is not necessary for some crops. Farmers can utilize available vertical space to grow more food on a smaller footprint.

Drought, flood impacts create uncertainty for food producers

farmbox foods - drought

Drought, flood impacts create uncertainty for food producers

farmbox foods - drought

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.”

Prototype Vertical Hydroponic System at Valor Christian High School

Valor Christian High School

Valor Christian High SchoolSEDALIA, Colo. – Valor Christian High School 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.

“I told Tony I’d like to have a farm here, but I don’t have the money to do that,” Russon said, referring to FarmBox Foods founder Tony English, whom he met on LinkedIn.

The unit — based at the school — began producing huge quantities of fresh lettuce, and quickly grabbed the attention of students and faculty at the private Highlands Ranch school. Russon estimates that more than two dozen teachers have approached him about constructing a home unit for them. FarmBox Foods also shared the know-how and the tools necessary for students to conduct “shoebox mycology” experiments, and soon, the Valor students were growing gourmet mushrooms on a small scale in their classroom.

Russon’s foray into academia was not exactly planned. He volunteered to be a parent advisor, and that quickly morphed into a role as director of the Applied STEM Program, where he and the students have flourished.

“I have always loved gardening and growing things,” Russon said. “I brought in some projects from home and the students saw a germination station I brought in and said ‘can we grow something?’ That’s how the agriculture club started.”

Now, Russon, who in his professional career has helped lead innovative projects related to tank gun stabilization, torpedo guidance and even flight simulations for NASA’s first five space shuttle missions, is developing a control system for an 8-tube vertical hydroponic system using Raspberry Pi controllers typically used in video game systems. It will help run a network of sensors that monitor temperature, nutrient levels and pH, and control ventilation fans and full- spectrum LED lights also used 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 resources.

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

“I feel honored to have this (system),” Russon said. “Someday when FarmBox is enormous, I’ll be able to say we had this.”