Who says shipping containers are single-purpose products? Eric Ellestad thought that is not the case and so he came up with an idea to build a farm inside a repurposed, 40-foot-long shipping container in a parking lot in Hawthorne. And so Local Roots was born with a bold mission to solve the biggest challenges of modern agriculture.
Its solution, called TerraFarm, is a vertical farming system that uses custom-engineered LED lighting and a recirculating hydroponic watering system to stimulate rapid plant growth and use 97% less water than outdoor farming. Such micro-farms, enclosed inside shipping containers, can not only be delivered and set up anywhere in the world — but also making for organic produce, with the highly controlled environment helping to avoid pesticides, GMOs and herbicides.
The system also includes sensors and computer vision integrated with an artificial neural network to monitor the plants — which takes place from California.
At the moment, Local Roots is growing kale, lettuce and spring-mix greens for local customers — but the intention is to eventually branch out into other delicate crops such as fruits and berries. Greens are the most conducive to this system, as they don’t survive the lengthy supply chain that more hearty vegetables like potatoes can easily endure.
Local Roots claims that TerraFarm has achieved “cost parity with traditional, outdoor farming” with each unit producing the equivalent of “three to five acres of farmland,” using 97% less water through water recapture and harvesting the evaporated water through air conditioning. Again, such a closed — yet modular and customizable — system makes TerraFarm ideal for so-called “food deserts” wherever they happen to be. In fact, Local Roots says the system is weather, climate and even planet agnostic.
The first vertical farm in a US grocery store opened in Dallas, Texas in 2016.
Bringing fresh vegetables to the local population could be seen as part of the wider push to promote healthy nutrition, which easily translates into votes for local politicians. Furthermore, teaming up with Local Roots — or one of its partners — could also bring new jobs to the community while promoting high-tech agriculture. Cause that's what TerraFarm is all about — using technology to deliver fresh produce every day of the year.
These days, many folks prefer eating organic, locally-produced food and TerraFarm delivers on both fronts. In that sense, partnering with Local Roots and bringing its technology to the local markets could turn into a good business. Furthermore, since the system is almost fully automated, there are no high operational costs, leaving more room for profits. Add potential local subsidies to the mix — or at very least some free promotion — and you get a winning concept.