BrightBox Farms’ Gideon Saunders sees Alaska’s farming future in hydroponics

Nestled alongside an otherwise ordinary house on Kodiak rests a shipping container. It seems out of place, but even more conspicuous is the garden inside of it. BrightBox Farm’s growing area looks like a prop from a movie about space exploration- the vertically oriented hydroponic farm is its own perfect microclimate.

Using this shipping container has enabled Gideon Saunders to conquer the seasons that otherwise rule Kodiak’s gardens.

“That’s where we engaged with Freight Farms, who builds 40 foot containers, high cubes, nine and a half feet tall, eight feet wide, standard container, just a little taller, very insulated, highly insulated R-28. So we engaged with them and specked out a unit, and then had it shipped to us,” Saunders said.

Freight Farms made the interior of the shipping container. Inside are hanging racks of lettuce and other greens, interspersed with panels of blindingly bright ultraviolet lights. A panel filled with nutrients feeds into a water tank at the back, which in turn drip feeds into the hydroponics system. The air is supplemented by a carbon dioxide tank, ensuring that the plants want for nothing.

The container is controlled entirely by app. And it even comes with Bluetooth speakers built in. But it’s function over form for the container- Saunders boasts that with less than 30 man hours of work, he could use it to grow 1,000 heads of lettuce a week.

It’s not just that it seems futuristic. Saunders is convinced that systems such as this will revolutionize farming.

“I think it’s the future. I mean, we can get into the politics of farming and the water rights and fresh water usage globally, and global warming and all these hot button topics- 8 billion, 9 billion, 10 billion people, how do you feed them? Population’s growing- how do you get more efficient with your food? Well, when it comes to produce and leafy greens and what we’re doing, we use 95% less water than traditional farming. We don’t use herbicides, pesticides or insecticides. So no glyphosate, no Miracle Grow. Nothing bad, chemically. You can control it. So it’s the future of farming,” Saunders said.

This sort of production doesn’t come cheap. Saunders says that the unit costs around $100,000 with shipping and handling. But as the march of technological progress inevitably pushes prices down, it will become more cost effective for small farmers to invest in equipment like this.

And Saunders says it already is cost effective, although his container is supplemented with a small homemade grow in his garage. He sells microgreens by way of subscription service- in which he provides bags of greens to subscribers on a weekly basis for a monthly fee- and by sales at the local farmers’ market. Even on an island known for its challenges to gardening and commercial shipping, herbivores can enjoy fresh, locally-grown produce all year long.

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