Kimberley Mok

Increasing urbanization, the huge carbon impact of conventionally grown produce, climate change and the resulting rise in food prices has prompted many people to look for other solutions to feed our growing cities. Some are turning to rooftop farms, while at home, families are trying out aquaponicshydroponics and permaculture as a way to sustain themselves.

Entrepreneurs are getting in on the action too.
French startup Agricool proposes urban agriculture done hydroponically, out of recycled shipping containers they are calling “cooltainers“, to produce food that is “super-local with zero pesticide, zero preservative, zero GMO“. The company was founded in 2015 by Gonzague Gru and Guillaume Fourdinier, sons of farmers who grew up eating farm-fresh fruits and vegetables. When they moved to Paris a few years ago, they were unable to find produce with the same fresh taste, and decided to start a company that would literally bring the farm into the city.

They say: “As existing solutions were not capable of delivering perfect food, we decided to delete all certitudes, and think out of the box. To get good fruits and vegetables in town, we need to farm in town. That’s the only solution. The problem is that we lack space. Our roofs and balconies aren’t sufficient to feed millions of city dwellers with fresh and local produce. After months of research, we found out the way to grow the equivalent of 4000m2 (1 acre) in a 30m2 (0.007 acre) recycled container.”

According to the company, cooltainers will be modified so that the growing conditions is optimized. Water, lighting, and air will be regulated in order to create an environment that is estimated to be 120 times more productive than the same square footage of land, and powered by renewable energy sources. No pesticides will be used, and water usage will be reduced by 90 percent.
The company has just finished developing a cooltainer that is designed to scale up, so that it can be placed anywhere in the city. They recently garnered $4.3 million in funding, and are now planning to deploy 75 cooltainers that will produce 91 tons of strawberries — their first test crop — in 2017.

While this isn’t the first shipping container farm we’ve seen, it is yet another thought-provoking example of how our food security issues might be addressed by a bit of unconventional thinking that will change the conventional image of what farming entails. This may very well be the future of urban farming, or at least one piece of the puzzle. For more information, visit Agricool.