Inside a Shipping Container Farm

Year-Round Indoor Farming at Bright Greens Canada

by BC Farms & Food  -  Permalink
October 26, 2017

High-tech shipping container farms like Bright Greens Canada can produce fresh vegetables and herbs year-round using indoor vertical growing. (Article continues below video.)

Video: Year-Round Growing inside a Shipping Container Farm

When Tamara Knott stumbled on a Facebook post about shipping container farms one morning in 2016, she had no idea she was about to begin a new career as a high-tech urban farmer.

Although Knott, a former IT worker, grew up in a family of enthusiastic gardeners, she had never actually been a farmer. The video post about Freight Farms, a company that converts refrigerated shipping containers into automated hydroponic farms, convinced her it might be the right move.

Advantages of Shipping Container Farming

Vegetables grow in vertical towers inside a shipping container farm.Freight Farms is one of a number of prefabricated shipping container farms that provide a complete indoor farming agricultural system. This innovative farm can grow fresh produce year-round. Using hydroponic techniques and high-efficiency LED grow lights, the entire farm—the equivalent of 1.5 to 2 acre’s produce—grows inside an insulated 40′ by 8′ by 9.5′ shipping container.

This kind of indoor container farming has wide possible uses for cold, northern areas, where the costs of transport for food greatly outweigh the expense for relatively small amount of electrical energy needed to power an enclosed operation. A typical shipping container farm uses about 80 kWh of energy per day, or 30,000 kWh per year. This is about three times the average electricity consumption for a household in North America, but far below many industrial operations. In general, shipping container farms, which range in price from about $50,000 to $85,000 USD, are less expensive than purchasing a land-based farm.

Tamara Knott outside her shipping container farm at Bright Greens Canada.

(top) Vegetables grow in vertical towers inside the container farm. (below) Tamara Knott stands outside her shipping container farm at Bright Greens Canada.

Shipping container farms are compact, easily transported by truck or rail, and have a small footprint. This means they can fit into rural or urban settings (provided zoning laws allow). Because they recycle their own water, container farms use about 90 percent less water than a typical 1.5 acre land farm.

Just two months after learning about Freight Farms, Tamara Knott and her husband, Bruce, flew to Boston for an intensive two-day training course in hydroponics. They also purchased their own shipping container farm. Their new venture, Bright Greens Canada, located on the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) in Central Saanich, near Victoria, became the first shipping container farm in British Columbia.

Vertical Growing Under Lights

Plants inside the large metal shipping container grow in a series of vertical towers. “There are 256 vertical towers,” says Tamara, “each with 12 to 17 plants in a tower. So we’re able to grow a lot of plant material in a confined space…and make effective use of the space by growing up.”

Red and blue LED grow lights illuminate vertical towers of vegetable plants inside a shipping container farm.

Red and blue LED grow lights designed to maximize plant growth illuminate vertical towers of vegetable starts.

During the growing cycle, environmental sensors inside the container farm measure the nutrient levels, temperature, humidity, air flow, and carbon dioxide levels, and send information to a controller to automatically maintain optimum growing conditions.

Low-energy red and blue LED light arrays power a soil-free hydroponic system. Under the LED lights, Tamara can grow up to 3,600 plant starts from seed in four weeks. When the starts are of sufficient size, she transplants them into slots in the seven-foot towers to grow vertically. Using this method, Bright Greens can harvest lettuce, kale, herbs and other greens in just an additional three to six weeks.

Is Indoor Farming the Way of the Future?

Will controlled growing climates like shipping container farms ever supplant regular agriculture? Probably not. They can, however, extend the growing season for local fruits, vegetables, and even animal fodder, and address water problems during droughts. The ability to farm indoors in this way underscores the great economic potential of local urban agriculture.

“The most obvious advantage,” says Tamara, “is the ability to grow year-round despite the climate outdoors.”

Seedling trays inside a shipping container farm.

Vertical towers of lettuce plants grow inside a shipping container farm.

Salad greens grown in late fall inside a shipping container farm.

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4 Responses leave one →
  1. 2019 July 15
    Gina Bernier permalink

    What is the set up cost? Do you have containers set up and ready to go.
    What temperature can it be outside. What would the temp be in the sea can?

  2. 2019 May 11
    Roy and Anna Marie Spooner permalink

    We live in Vanderhoof BC and are currently selling our big lakeside home with the intention of buying a property closer to Vanderhoof. We would have sufficient acreage to have several ‘container gardens’. We are curious about operating them in northern BC during winter months with temperatures that can normally fall to -15 to -30 degrees below 0. Presumably there is a heating system however I am concerned about the design and how it protects against blasts of cold air while entering and leaving the container. Do you have any estimates on propane heating costs in general and particularly with 3-4 months of colder weather? Can we grow tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, green onions, as well as herbs and leafy salad plants. As we would have access to markets in Vanderhoof, Prince George with populations totaling 100,000+ and communities along Hwy 16 west to Prince Rupert do you have information about the commercial viability of a multi container operation in these circumstances. Have loved hydroponics since high school and this looks like an interesting retirement activity and income.

  3. 2018 March 4
    brian fedirko permalink

    very pretty setup.
    i’m doing smaller scale at home in an apartment, and was wondering exactly what LED strips you’re using.
    I’d like to get access to buy them too.

  4. 2017 November 1
    Camelia Doyle permalink

    Fantastic ideas!! Love the concept

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