(NEW YORK) — Even near some of the busiest cities in the United States, nearly 54 million people struggle to access fresh, healthy food, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
A company based in suburban Denver said it had a solution.
Farmbox Foods in Sedalia, Colorado turns recycled shipping containers into vertical hydroponic farms. The company says the containers can create up to two traditional farming football pitches. They grow over 400 pounds of mushrooms per week.
Rusty Walker, CEO of Farmbox Foods, called his containers “modern agricultural spaceships.”
“This is a 40ft tall insulated cubed container that was repurposed and then designed to [with] three walls of growth,” Walker told ABC News’ Ginger Zee. “[We can grow] about two and a half to three acres of farmland in this container.
The United States Department of Agriculture defines “food deserts” as areas where people have limited access to a variety of healthy, affordable foods. There are approximately 6,500 food deserts in the United States based on 2002 and 2006 census data on the locations of supermarkets, supermarkets, and large grocery stores.
Often, areas with a higher percentage of poverty and minority population are more likely to be food deserts, the USDA found in a 2012 study.
Walker said his mobile, climate-controlled farmland can be shipped and used anywhere.
“So we can sit or stand in this container here today and have a truck come in tomorrow and we can put it on a flatbed truck and ship it to Chicago 48 hours later. Plug it in and it grows,” Walker said.
In the United States, more than 40% of the country’s fresh water is used to irrigate crops. Agriculture alone accounts for at least 11% of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
Walker said his farming system only uses the freshwater equivalent of about two loads of laundry per day.
“I think the biggest thing we have going for us is that we use 3-5 gallons of water a day. That’s it,” Walker said. “We’re seeing our plants grow 3-4 times faster. than they would in an ordinary environment, so we like to say that we grow without harm.
Michael Boardman is a natural grocer in Lakewood, Colorado. His grocery store uses a Farmbox Foods container and he said it gives them control of their produce supply chain.
“We’ll harvest, bring it straight to our store [and it’s ready] for our customers,” said Boardman, who added that the produce is fresher than traditional grocery supply chains. “[The produce is] much more nutrient dense because it hasn’t been sitting on a shelf in a warehouse. It was not shipped across the country.
Local grocers aren’t the only ones buying Farmbox Foods. One of the company’s biggest customers is Centura Health, a local hospital system in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Patrick Gaughan, senior vice president and director of values integration at Centura Health, said they grow fresh produce for their patients, associates and community members who come to the hospital.
“As we grow and develop in food [we grow]then we also donate that food to communities through local food banks, farmers markets, so people can access it and have the food available for them,” Gaughan said.
Vertical farming, like Farmbox Foods, is often criticized for the limited amount of food that can be produced. But Farmbox Foods told ABC News they are growing rapidly and have been testing carrots, potatoes and radishes.
Gaughan said easy access to fresh food will only make a community stronger and healthier – all year round.
“We can link food insecurity and poor nutrition to things like diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, and even mental health,” he said. “We can present people with a whole new way to get their food, to taste their food, to use their food in a culturally-respective way, but also in a way that’s affordable and available year-round.”
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