Freight Farms containers provide gardens in a big, metal box
Each large metal box can grow as much produce in a year as two acres of farmland, though you'd never know without peeking in.
From the outside, it looks like a shipping container you might see stacked on a barge. That is in fact what it was before being repurposed by a company called Freight Farms into a self-contained, hydroponic garden unit called a "Leafy Green Machine."
And now Holyoke has two of them. They sit side by side in a vacant lot on Race Street next to the HCC MGM Culinary Arts Institute, where some of the leafy green vegetables grown inside will eventually make their way.
The pair of 40-foot-long Freight Farms containers was delivered last week, thanks to an investment of $208,000 from the state, and just in time for Holyoke Innovation Week, which continues through Sunday, April 29.
The funds were provided by MassDevelopment, as part of its Transformative Development Initiative, which is meant to accelerate economic growth in its Gateway Cities' communities. The project will provide year-round urban agriculture, education and training opportunities for city residents and Holyoke Community College students. Other partners include Nuestras Raices, the city of Holyoke, and the Holyoke Redevelopment Authority.
The official announcement of the Holyoke Freight Farms urban agriculture project will be delivered by Jay Ash, state secretary of Housing and Economic Development, during a press conference Thursday, April 26, at noon, at 150 Race St., where visitors will get their first opportunity to look inside the farm containers.
Also speaking will be Mayor Alex Morse; Hilda Roque, executive director of Nuestras Raices; and Bill Fogarty, HCC vice president of Administration and Finance.
Nuestras Raices, a nonprofit that manages community gardens throughout the city, will run the day-to-day container operations. The city and HCC will share the costs of utilities, maintenance and labor.
The containers will be used to teach hydroponic growing techniques to agricultural interns from the community and HCC.
Some of the harvested produce – lettuce, spinach, basil, cilantro and other leafy greens and herbs with shallow roots – will be sold to the HCC MGM Culinary Arts Institute, HCC on-campus dining services, and local restaurants. Some will be donated to help feed hungry people on campus and in the community.
"These container farms provide a means of addressing food insecurity in Holyoke while at the same time offering experiential learning opportunities for resident interns and students in HCC's sustainability, nutrition, culinary arts and health programs," said HCC president Christina Royal. "Partnerships such as these are key to transforming Holyoke and enabling our community to thrive."
PHOTO by CHRIS YURKO: One of the two Freight Farms containers delivered last week to an empty lot on Race Street in Holyoke, near the HCC MGM Culinary Arts Institute, seen in the background.