With the growing population in urban areas, innovations in city farming are purported to alleviate some of the challenges facing food systems, such as minimizing water consumption, reducing transportation distance, and maximizing yields per unit area. An equally important factor is ensuring that the means used for urban farming is efficient and sustainable, which has been satisfied by using modified shipping containers for the cultivating, processing, and storage of agricultural products.
Most of the produce in the City of Toronto is trucked in from other areas and delivered to farmers’ markets, grocery stores, restaurants, and homes. There’s barely any free space for traditional farming in most cities, though there’s plenty of space for vertical farming. When space is at a premium for planting in rows on the ground, vertical farming allows urban farmers to stack their plants on supporting racks with soil or soilless (hydroponics) farming. Shipping containers allow you to control the environment precisely for not only crop farming, but also non-plant agriculture such as insect, worm, or fish farming.
While plants, animals, and other living organisms can survive in a wide range of environments, they require specific conditions to thrive. Fortunately, shipping containers provide one of the best tools to develop that ideal environment for your year-round urban farm.
Managed Ecosystem for City Farming
Containers allow for Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA), whose objective is to provide optimal conditions for crop growth. Generally, the container is customized to provide a tightly managed ecosystem for the type of agricultural work that you want to perform. It provides perfect lighting, air temperature and humidity control, and protection from pests, insects, and harmful environmental factors. The result is the availability of higher quality food that is produced closer to consumers, with optimal use of resources such as space, water, labour, energy, and capital, which ultimately makes the farming sustainable.
Some of the parameters that can be successfully contained in a controlled container farming environment include:
- Light. Light is necessary for photosynthesis (plant growth) and can be provided naturally from the sun or through artificial means, such as LEDs. Lighting can be controlled with great precision to vary the intensity (brightness), duration (timing), and spectrum (colour) for increased productivity. For instance, 16 hours of lighting can result in greater and faster yields.
- Carbon dioxide. This is another essential plant input for the process of photosynthesis. Providing enough CO2 in the environment is necessary for successful plant growth.
- Temperature. Different types of crops thrive under a specific temperature range, whether it’s cold or hot weather. Conversely, less than ideal temperatures may stifle crop development, while extreme conditions will destroy any crop. Accurately controlling the temperature, so it stays in the optimal range can maximize crop productivity.
- Humidity. The relative humidity is important for controlling the rate at which plants lose water and withstand a warm or cold growing environment, which in turn affects growth rate and disease resistance.
- Nutrients. The composition (constituents), concentration (amount of each nutrient), and pH (acidity of alkalinity) of the substances delivered to plants can be controlled with great precision, whether it’s given via soil or water for hydroponic systems.
Types of Container Farming
Container agricultural systems are quite versatile, but you need to determine the crops that you want to grow, where the container will be located, access to inputs (seeds, fertilizer, fungicides, and other chemicals), where to store your harvest, and how to distribute or sell it.
These factors will affect how your urban container farm will be designed, with regard to:
- Lighting system: natural lights or LED lighting and wiring
- Irrigation system: piping, pump, reservoir, or nutrient feeder
- Growing system: racks, trays, shelves, or growing chambers
- Modifications: ventilation, heating/air conditioning, and insulation
- Control and monitoring: for pH, humidity, temperature, and lighting
- Storage: harvest, farm inputs, and gardening tools
In addition, you should consider the type of agricultural system that you want to apply, such as:
This means crop cultivation without a soil medium. In this case, the roots may be suspended in water, or the plant grows in an inactive medium, such as gravel.
This involves growing aquatic plants, while keeping animals such as fish, snails, insects, or algae under controlled conditions, concurrently.
This is a similar practice to hydroponics, though the roots can be suspended in a container where they can be sprayed with a mist of a water-nutrient mix.
This involves the symbiotic combination of aquaculture and hydroponics, usually with aquatic creatures, plants, and bacteria for mutual benefit. For instance, you can purchase feed for the fish, and collect its decomposed excretions (facilitated by bacteria) to use as nutrients that are delivered via hydroponic systems.
- Vertical farming
This involves growing your crops in stacked layers to make use of vertical space.
Farming in a closely monitored environment allows you to maximize production by increasing the number of plants you have per unit area, usually through vertical farming. This reduces the growing season by increasing the lighting hours, providing ideal growing temperatures, and timely and accurate nutrient provision. It also improves crop yield by ensuring ideal growth conditions for healthier plants.
Getting Started with Your Container Farming
Starting a container farm is similar to starting a new business, in that you need initial capital and operating costs. The starting capital is required for purchasing a pre-made or custom-made shipping container for the type of agricultural project you want to undertake. This includes the actual cost of the container and the necessary equipment for agriculture. You also need to prepare a foundation for your urban farm for stability and convenient access year-round.
Operational costs are the expenses for running your farm and include seeds, water, energy, fertilizer, labour, packaging, transport to market, advertising, and so on. You will probably spend most of your money on energy to control the temperature and humidity at different times of the year for optimal growth. However, this can be significantly reduced with proper insulation. Labour is also a major cost.
To ensure that you have a successful shipping container farm in Toronto, you must do proper research on the feasibility of the project, just like with any other business. As well, it’s important to work with a professional company that specializes in container farms in your area for technical support when you need it.
For more information, please call Secure Container Solutions at 416-817-3216 or contact us here at our website.