There’s no doubt we live in a pretty lucky country, with an abundance of fresh foods readily available. However, some of the fresh food sold in our supermarkets might not actually be that fresh.
Technological advances now make it easier to extend the lifespan and ‘freshness’ of our fruit and vegetables. While that granny smith apple you’re holding might look pretty fresh, the fact is it’s probably been in and out of chilled facilities and sprayed with fungicides and other chemicals to prevent mould and biochemical maturity.
Effects storage has on fruit and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are a major source of macronutrients. While the use of controlled low-temperature storage of fruit and vegetables can stabilize and reduce the rate of decomposition, it can also lead to a decrease in the release of nutrients.
A study by a professor of foods and nutritional sciences, Barbra P Klein, highlights that the prolonged storage of fruits and vegetables can result in a degradation of key nutrients. This subsequently means in order for us to receive the nutrients for example from a hand-picked orange or bunch of spinach, we need to consume more than the recommended amount to gain the same level of nutrients.
So how do we stop this form of low nutrient food from reaching our plates? The easiest fix is to buy direct from local farmers right? But what about the people living in remote areas, that have to drive an hour just to get to their nearest supermarket or the city slickers who are too time-poor to drive to their local farmers market?
This is where the humble shipping container comes into play. Shipping containers that were once used for the import and export of fresh fruit and vegetables across the world are now paving the way for an alternative, more sustainable way to grow food, regardless of climate or spacial restriction.
Individuals and businesses are modifying shipping containers to allow for a variety of fruits and vegetables to be grown without the need for large lots of land or heavy, resource-draining machinery. Vertical farms allow individuals to grow large volumes of fruits and vegetables in the confinement of a typical 20ft shipping container, with little negative environmental or financial impact.
Most vertical farming systems utilise a hydroponic system and sophisticated climate control technology that allows fresh produce to grow more efficiently in small spaces. Compared to traditional agriculture, vertical farms are said to use between 70 and 95 percent less water. They incorporate a vertical drip irrigation which allows any excess water to be filtered back into the system. Most vertical farms housed in shipping containers have the potential to grow 1,000 lettuces per week using as little as 60-100 litres of water. This is equivalent to an average person’s weekly shower usage. In order to maintain a prime growing temperature, a large amount of blue and red spectrum LED light strips are also housed in these vertical farms allowing photosynthesis to occur at a more rapid rate.
U.S startup company, Square Roots have shown the commercial viability of the production of large volumes of fruits and vegetables using shipping containers. Growing the equivalent of two hectares of fresh produce in as little as eight weeks.
Want to grow your own produce in a shipping container?
While it might be a fun idea to grow your own veggies in that patch of dirt in your backyard, it can be pretty hard to regulate their growing conditions. The option of a greenhouse can also be a very costly venture. Shipping container gardens make growing produce easy, anytime anywhere.
Due to shipping containers being airtight everything inside is protected from outside elements. This makes it easier to regulate the temperature inside the container. A shipping container based farming system has been developed by Williamson Greenhouses called Cropbox which allows users to grow produce at a rapid rate in a more environmentally sustainable way. The system uses more than a dozen computer sensors to make sure the conditions inside the container are maintained at an optimal level. The sensors monitor the temperature of the plants’ roots as well as the moisture level in the air. A smartphone app can also be used to monitor and control the climate of the container remotely.
Whilst this technology could easily be the way of the future of urban farming for a typical household or small business Cropbox is pretty pricey. If you can’t afford the hefty price tag, consider purchasing a second-hand container and creating your own shipping container garden. There are heap of DIY ideas that utilise household waste products like plastic soft drink bottles and offcuts of water pipes that you can draw inspiration from.