People commonly use old freight containers as alternative homes, or they turn them into art studios, shops or restaurants. However, Shawn Cooney, a 61-year-old from Boston, uses former shipping containers as a farm.
Cooney has four shipping-containers-turned-farm-boxes in a vacant lot near the Logan Airport. He grows about 30,000 heads of lettuce, herbs, and other vegetables in these containers.
Freight Farms, a start-up company in Boston that outfits the containers with growing racks, lights, and irrigation systems, is the supplier of Cooney’s farm boxes.
Freight Farms only uses old freezer containers previously used to ship meat, as they already have insulation features. The company installs cameras and LEDs that serve as the plants’ source of light. There is no soil inside the boxes; users can put the roots in a peat moss base, where they receive enough amount of water full of nutrients every 12 minutes.
The system inside the container controls the temperature, nutrient levels, and carbon dioxide. Unlike in conventional farms, the users of this container do not need to worry about the effect of weather on their plants. Moreover, users can connect the container’s system to their phone, and they can control it remotely if they live far from the farm box.
With Freight Farms’ boxes, Cooney harvests around 4,000 to 6,000 plants every week – approximately 80 times the number he would get from a traditional farm with the same area. Cooney sold these plants to a wholesaler, which sells them to high-end restaurants in the city. “They have a little more taste, and definitely better texture. Once a chef tries them, they want them,” said Cooney.
Cooney, a former manager at a software company, started his farm business with a loan from the Department of Agriculture. He purchased the containers from Freight Farms for $60,000 each. His farm-in-a-box operation generates about $15,000 every month, which is enough to pay the monthly dues for his loan, rent for the land, utilities, materials, salaries for his wife and himself.
When asked about his interesting switch from tech to farming, Cooney said he got tired of working in big companies. “I’m not really a farmer. But it’s more interesting than a desk job,” said Cooney.
His wife also encouraged Cooney to start his farming business. “She asked if we could do the farming thing together. And said it would be fun to do something way out of our comfort zone,” said Cooney.
Cooney has plans to expand his business and open a retail store at the Boston Public Market.