Sustainability has made great fodder for discussion this month, as Earth Day has become a key date for sharing progress towards environmental goals. As it works towards improving sustainability and food security across the farm-to-table chain, one startup company, FarmBox Foods, is developing perennial solutions that range from actual livestock fodder to onsite production of fresh greens at consumer-facing sites, including grocery stores, restaurants, schools and community groups.
FarmBox’s ecosystem-based approach determines the best uses for its automated, climate-controlled container farms. The Colorado-based company offers vertical hydroponic farms used to grow greens and herbs with minimal energy and water, as well as gourmet mushroom farms.
In the grocery sector, Natural Grocers was an early adopter of the concept, adding the small-footprint container farms to some of its locations to grow organic lettuce. Natural Grocers is now able to provide fresher greens while cutting down on transportation emissions and costs, and is planning on expanding the use of the farms to more of its sites.
“The lettuce is being grown 80 feet away – it’s as fresh as fresh gets. Usually what’s put in the shelf was harvested that morning or the day before, and so it has the entire nutritional value and a longer shelf life,” Chris Michlewicz, chief public relations officer at FarmBox, told Progressive Grocer. He cited other benefits, such as a reduction in food waste and less of a reliance on outside supply chains at a time of shortages and bottlenecks.
Added Rick, Walker, chief strategy officer: “It’s a purer form of produce. You are not using fertilizer or pesticides – you are getting back to a more nutrient dense product.”
In addition to its vertical hydroponic farms and mushroom farms, FarmBox recently went upstream in the food production process to utilize its shipping container format for the production of livestock fodder. “We have our first one in development right now and are getting ready to unveil it in a month or so,” reported Walker.
For livestock producers, the container offers a host of benefits. “It’s 325 square feet and produces 1,000 pounds of fodder per day that’s used as a supplement for livestock. It gives farmers and ranchers full control over their feed supply, since they can grow it onsite and year round and cut out variables like drought, and extreme heat and freezes,” said Michlewicz.
In addition to operational advantages, the ability to grow this nutritious supplement helps improve sustainability and enhance the quality of finished products. “The fodder that comes out of it is 85% digestible, which means less methane gas emissions. Also, if its 85% digestible, the animals are retaining more water and nutrients. The end result for a dairy farmer, for example, would be more nutrient, dense, healthier milk,” Walker noted, adding that cattle fed with higher quality fodder on a finishing diet also tend to be more docile (before slaughter), which can enhance meat tenderness.
Whether used on a farm or on a grocery store property, the container farms are built for another type of growth. “If a company wanted to scale, these can be stacked to create a system,” said Walker.
The supply chain vulnerabilities exposed over the past year, along with parallel efforts to reduce carbon footprints and increase food access and equity, are keeping FarmBox’s team busy. “There are a variety of uses for these containers – people are taking the idea and running with it,” Walker declared.
Lakewood, Colo.-based Natural Grocers is No. 95 on The PG 100, Progressive Grocer’s 2021 list of the top food and consumables retailers in North America.