Startup Fights Arctic Hunger with Shipping Container Farms

Each container can produce 9,300 pounds of produce annually.

By Ethan L. Johns
October 12, 2017

Image: McConnell Foundation

More and more these days, the humble shipping container is being exploited for purposes other than transportation. While architects get creative with the steel boxes, turning them into low-cost housing units, among other things, the containers have also been sold as the shells of home brewery units in the Czech Republic (if you’re curious how the things are made, you can watch here: they all start as completely flat sheets of steel). One Ottowa-based company is taking a different approach, turning them into mobile, hydroponic farms that are solving food security issues in the Arctic.

The Growcer produces these farms-in-a-box with one important feature that lends itself to the niche market that exists inside and below the Arctic Circle: insulation. Temperatures in northern Canada can drop below -40 degrees Fahrenheit, so northern communities are largely dependent on expensive shipments of food. According to a profile from Fast Company, this problem of reliance was the inspiration for the Arctic Growing System, which can function at temperatures as low as -60 degrees Fahrenheit.

While other container-based growing units exist, the heat insulation—in addition to upgraded lamps and enough seeds to last 14 months—drive the cost of the units to nearly double that of the standard. Yet among the six Alaskan communities that have purchased the containers, all of them have recuperated the expense. According to Growcer co-founder Cory Ellis, the containers can grow around 9,300 pounds of food per year using 91 percent less water than a traditional soil farm.

With one in nine people on the planet undernourished, the Arctic Growing System is one of many efforts contributing to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal of ending hunger, which is particularly important in the northmost reaches of North America. Nunavut, for example—the Canadian province situated to the north of Manitoba—has a rate of food insecurity that ranges from 50 to 80 percent. By providing the ability to grow lettuces, tomatoes, broccoli, herbs and other edible plants, The Growcer’s Arctic Growing System gives cold-climate communities access to affordable self-reliance in agriculture. It also creates jobs.

What does a sustainable future for the planet look like? One can imagine shipping container homes, fed by attached shipping container farms. Throw in that shipping container brewery and we’ll be happy to hole ourselves up for a nice, long winter.

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About Ethan L. Johns

Ethan is the Food News Writer at Genius Kitchen. An expert on the Parisian bistrot, he likes bitters and salted butters, and is no fan of dessert unless it's made with fruit. His hobbies include reading up on the history of borscht and attempting to roll perfect couscous by hand. Twits & Instagram @EthanLJohns