Ten-year-old Freight Farms is all about sustainable agriculture. The Boston-based agricultural technology company sells 320-sq.-ft. containers allowing for indoor hydroponic vertical farming. Customers, called farmers, grow more than 500 varieties of produce year-round, using anywhere from 0 to 5 gallons of water a day. So the operation is very climate-friendly.
One stumbling block, however, has long been the matter of power. Like other indoor farming enterprises, the company has struggled with how to make their customers’ electrical power use more sustainable.
That’s why Freight Farms recently announced it was teaming up with Washington, D.C.-based renewable energy company Arcadia, which will allow Freight Farm farmers to tap its system for getting access to solar and wind energy.
The result should be for farmers to reduce their carbon footprint to one-quarter that of conventional industrial farming operations, according to Freight Farms. “We can finally say we’re sustainable across all four dimensions that really matter in agriculture,” says Freight Farms CEO Rick Vanzura.
Addressing All the Issues
Up until now, Freight Farms has been able to address three big issues faced by sustainable ag companies. One is the massive decline in arable land caused by climate change. Hydroponic techniques address that problem, because they don’t use soil at all, thereby eliminating the impact on arable land.
Another is the matter of water scarcity and conservation. That’s addressed by the use of containers, which capture and recycle water.
Third: sustainability issues related to shipping agricultural products long distances. Farmers cut down on travel, since they can put the highly portable containers anywhere where there’s an 8-by-40-foot plot of land, a power hook-up and access to water.
But power usage still remained a problem. The solution: Through the arrangement with Arcadia, farmers connect their local utility account to the company. Then Arcadia takes care of sourcing clean energy, either through a power purchase agreement or through purchases of a renewable energy certificate, which is an offset from a wind or solar farm.
Until now Arcadia’s focus has been on residential customers. The process of working with Freight Farms is slightly different, because farms use considerably more energy than the average consumer, according to Arcadia CEO Kiran Bhatraju. He’s also in the process of discussions with electric car companies, commercial buildings and employers considering offering Arcadia’s services as a benefit for employees working from home.
Aviad Sheinfeld started Wiseacre Farms about a year ago to grow and sell lettuce, herbs and greens to residents in and around Glenview, Ill. He’s one of the first Freight Farm farmers to participate in the new clean energy program. “As a hyperlocal farmer, we try to be as sustainable as possible,” says Yael Sheinfeld, his daughter, who also is in charge of marketing. “We’ve always focused on how we could shift our energy consumption to be more in line with our goals.”
Freight Farms sells to a variety of customers, from schools to small businesses. The service is being made available to the company’s 500 farmers who operate about 340 farms. The typical farm sells mostly lettuce and microgreens—50,000 heads of lettuce a year or three-acres worth of produce, according to Vanzura.
“Most of our farmers have an interest in sustainability,” says Vanzura. “For them to have the chance to get easy access to clean power is a no-brainer proposition.”