Sustainable America Blog


Re-imagining the way we grow food, some innovative entrepreneurs are turning to shipping containers and hydroponic technologies and they’re having great success. PharmPods is one noteworthy startup that has recently launched a growing system utilizing containers for growing fresh vegetables.

PharmPods was founded by Scott Dittman, a hobby farmer who got into medical marijuana farming after closing his home building business. Dittman perfected the hydroponic techniques used for growing medical marijuana and then thought he could develop a way to use the same techniques for growing a less controversial crop, lettuce greens.

The shipping containers are meant to be housed inside, in warehouses or other similar spaces. The concept is that a farmer can maximize the growing potential in a space not typically used for agriculture. And it allows for the potential to grow in urban settings or areas with climates that typically require produce to be imported.

Dittman is planning to sell the PharmPods almost like a franchise. An investor would be able to license the materials and technology for an upfront cost and then a monthly revenue share. He’s also offering financing to allow investors to pay for their PharmPod over time.

His specially developed growing system uses LED and fluorescent bulbs along with a continuous-flow water system. Environmental controls make sure that everything functions properly and stays at the right temperature automatically. One PharmPod 20′ container can grow 3,400 heads of lettuce a month and the containers stack so the potential return is enticing.

Locavores will love the PharmPod because it cuts down on shipping costs and the oil typically associated with transportation of food by allowing producers to grow food close to their market.

‘Food miles’ is a term that refers to all the energy used simply in the transportation of food from farm to plate. And with all the attention recently to the problem of how to feed our growing populations, ideas like PharmPod are innovating in exciting and important ways.

Dittman is highly confident in his product. In an interview with Co.Exist, he explained, “”We get more production density out of the same space and the same dollar than we think our competitors do. We could ship and set up a fully functioning food factory in a matter of weeks, and we need 5% of the water used to grow crops traditionally.” Which means the next head of lettuce you buy may come from warehouse.

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By the Numbers

Currently 50 million households suffer from food insecurity, meaning that family members cannot always meet their basic food needs.

10 million people a year could be fed through the recovery of just one-fifth of food waste.

Only 2% of food waste is composted or otherwise recycled—62% of paper is recycled.

Consumers throw out about 40% of the fresh and frozen fish they buy.

The U.S. produced 208 pounds of meat per person in 2009—60% more than Europe.

Low income commuters spend a much higher proportion of their wages on gas—8.6% versus 2.1% at $4 per gallon.

Food prices rose 35-40 percentage points between 2002–2008.

Americans consume 25% of the world’s produced oil, but our nation holds less than 3% of the world’s proven oil reserves.

The International Energy Agency says greenhouse gas emissions rose 3.2% last year, with a 9.3% increase in China offsetting declines in the US and EU.

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