In a testament to the power of video on social media platforms, a 15-second clip of a FarmBox Foods hydroponic fodder farm garnered about 8 million views within days after it was posted on Instagram shortly after Christmas (see below for video). The viral video underscores consumer interest in indoor growing practices and products, which have expanded across the country in recent years.
Chris Michlewicz, VP of communications for the Denver-based manufacturer of tech-assisted container farms, told Progressive Grocer in a recent interview that the popularity of the video stems from both the engaging visuals and curiosity about hydroponic farming. “I think it's something that people have never really seen. One of the first questions for a lot of people who aren’t in farming or ranching is, 'What am I looking at?' There is also the visual equivalent of, ‘I want to do that – I want to grab that mat of grass because it looks so satisfying,” he said.
The viral post spurred a host of requests for more information about the container farms, including inquiries from grocers. “We’ve gotten, in a conservative estimate, about 125 that have come in at varying levels of interest. They want to learn more, like how to set it up and how much it costs,” Michlewicz reported.
Founded in 2017, FarmBox has widened its reach in recent years. Complementing its hydroponic vertical farms and gourmet mushroom farms, the company added hydroponic fodder farms in 2022, allowing farmers and ranchers to grow their own nutrient-dense hay for their animals.
Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage is one retailer that has embraced this kind of tech-driven agriculture, adding a hydroponic vertical farm from FarmBox behind a flagship store in Lakewood, Colo. The retailer calls it their GardenBox. “They are growing leafy greens 80 steps behind their display case. The vegetables are as fresh as fresh can be, especially with the nutrient density you are getting,” Michlewicz said.
The potential to add mushroom farms to stores and restaurants is also growing. “I believe that the mushroom farm is next – the demand for gourmet mushrooms is blowing up and we are starting to see a lot more movement there,” he said.
The containers take up a small footprint at a retail property or distribution center site. Spanning about 320 square feet, the farms are 40 feet long and about nine and a half feet tall. The size and portability of the containers has enabled FarmBox to send farms to places as far away and disparate as Alaska and Jamaica.
In addition to commercial uses, the container farms can be used by food banks, schools and prisons, as those organizations carry out their respective missions. “At food banks, produce is one of the first things to go. If you have something that is able to generate produce year round, that is a good use of your funds,” Michlewicz noted.
Ultimately, nourishment is the impetus behind the containers. “The technology we have is really cool and that’s what draws people in, but it’s really about our mission, our why, and the crux of what we do – we want to feed people,” he declared.