Container farming in the city – and maybe in your back yard?

I’ve been following the growth of so-called ‘container farming’ in cities around the country with considerable interest.  Here’s a Wall Street Journal report on the field.

NASA is even considering using the technology in space.

I’m wondering how viable something like this might be for backyard farmers.  One wouldn’t need to invest $80,000 per commercial container farm, as in the video above.  Instead, one could buy a used container (for $2,000 to $3,000) and convert it oneself into a general-purpose farming environment, spraying insulation onto the interior surfaces, providing heating and/or air-conditioning, and setting up racks for seedlings.  I see no reason why a family couldn’t produce more and better food in such a containerized farm than they could in their own back yards – only they’d do it in much less space.

Theoretically, a home with a relatively small back yard, but big enough to accommodate a 20′ or 40′ container, might become almost self-sufficient in the production of essential vegetables and fruits.  One might even have a neighborhood setup where different families grow different foods, and swap them among themselves to give everyone a balanced diet.

Is anyone doing that sort of thing at present?  Do any of my readers know anything about it?  If so, please tell us more in Comments.



  1. But would the government and the food industry allow it?
    Or would a series of stupid laws be written ("potential health hazards"?) either prohibiting or regulating/rationing such operations?

  2. Seems like a lot more cost and trouble vs. a typical greenhouse. Having to run grow lights is energy intensive, adding HVAC even more so. Sunlight is (so far) still free.

    Space habitat? Sure. Polar habitat? Sure. Most of the rest of us? Hard to justify except to keep your grow out of sight…and I wonder (LOL) just who would have that as a priority!?!?!?!?

  3. The principle is sound. But lettuce is barely food. It's purchased by restaurants, profits can be made, but is it worth the inputs if you want to grow enough real food to live on? Beans, corn, , fruit, root crops?

    from a self-sufficiency standpoint, I'd want an aquaculture pod. This provides fish to eat, but it also uses the fish waste to provide nutrients to the plants–which means I'm not purchasing plant chemicals. I still have to buy fish food, but at least I'm getting a significant protein out of the deal. And while restaurants will pay for fresh lettuce, they'll pay much more for clean tilapia or catfish.

  4. It does seem to make a lot of sense, doesn't it. Having Grow Lights to illuminate these plants is already in the cards – why not use the same light for your indoor illumination ? Eliminate the outdoor vermin that prey on your plants AND less trips to the grocery saving $$$.

  5. @would a series of stupid laws be written-

    @These things are just so city dwellers can grow their own pot-

    It's mostly not city dwellers. All the 'buried container growing pot' stories I've read were in some farmer's back forty. The War on Drugs is really screwing up new tech in agriculture. You know, instead of fueling them with drug cash and letting them spread to legit farming like it should be..

  6. A noble idea, but what urban dweller could possibly do this? No one I know of could park his car, much less a container in the backyard.
    And $80,000 for what? Plus electric power.
    Maybe they can get crop insurance?

  7. So, um, $80,000 plus supplies and utilities, or $3,000-$4,000 for a DIY unit plus supplies and utilities.

    Or, wow, let's see, go with square raised beds or debris bed gardens or a simple hot tunnel.

    I mean, if you have a back yard, even a small one, you can get innovative already with vertical racks, hydroponic set-ups and all sorts of stuff using low-power pumps and motors, the types of electrical equipment that will actually run off a simple solar lash-up.

    Grow lights and dehumidifiers and air handlers are great in certain situations, but they use a butt-load of utilities and unless you have a back-up genny, there is no margin for error (like utility outages.)
    Seen this in the drug wars, some place loses electricity for long enough, and the whole crop suddenly is destroyed by molds, fungi or just lack of light.

    This would be great for someone in northern Alaska or someone living in an old missile base or a cave, but for most city situations, there is roof-top gardening available, using, well, raised beds, green or hot houses and hydroponics. To take up valuable parking spaces, which if not assigned can generate rental money, is inefficient.

    This seems to be as efficient as buying an electric car. Really great until you factor in all the associated costs (the famous 'cheaper to drive a Hummer than a Prius' argument.)

  8. I guarantee the HOAs and City Planning Commissions would shut you down in a second, screeching in outrage…

  9. I'm with the others – on exotic habitats, sure, but for ordinary people? No way – expensive and unique. Part of the reason many people garden is to keep costs down; this is pretty much the opposite of that!

  10. For a ten year payoff of the $80000 you would be making payments of $1000 a mouth. So when you add the operating cost of $1000 a mouth, that $2000 in overhead costs which does not include labor.

  11. Plus, from what I've seen about intensive urban gardening, every so often you have to change out the dirt/growing medium; no matter how much humus you have added in the mean time, because of soil depletion. Where are you going to get the new 'dirt' and where are you going to get rid of the spent 'dirt'? And costs?

  12. That is being done dirt free hydroponically. The density of product is why lettuce is chosen and for the quick 3 week cycle on hydro. Growing other items is easily done. Google tower garden farming or the like. Same thing just not in a container. Very efficient and when properly run, very profitable.

  13. Down here in south Texas, the summer sun is burning the tomatoes as I type this. Midsummer is just too severe to grow much. Corn in the field is dry as dust right now.

    This would open up a whole new way to make money on and acre or two. The comments show that if you are in an HOA, you don't own your property. It's under the control of the control-freakiest people in your hive. Ugh, I'm too….. AMERICAN to pay dues to have some dip tell me how to run my own property.

    Buying an old reefer and removing the trucks would get you an insulated 53 foot box right now. I just checked and they are less than 12K. For a few grand more, you've got the internals. For 80K, you have 4 or 5 complete units. Start with one, and make it work, then expand.

    Light pipes for the day, grow lights at night, the options are endless. That vertical system is too smart.

    This really got my head going…. Thanks for posting this. I had no idea this concept was around.

  14. Rob, I'm trying to grow potatoes in a cheap $10 black plastic garbage can. Similar process to potato box.

  15. What is not mentioned are the consumables:
    electricity, soil nutrients, cute vertical containers, descent water
    Im sure I have missed a few.
    When the food runs out in cities these things will be first to go! The caloric nature of fibrous carbohydrates negates any long term energy supplement for human biology. Grass only fuels the liberal mind!

  16. The idea interests, I've been paying attention to variations on it for a while.

    But I'm not sure that the consumables (electricity mostly) would be worth it for the average family. In cooler climates heating would be required in addition to the lighting. In warmer climates cooling would be required in addition to the lighting. And in climates like mine I'd need heating in the winter and cooling in the summer! That adds up to ALOT of extra electricity! If money wasn't an issue then sure, add a solar panel and battery setup, but the good ones aren't cheap…..and if money wasn't an issue we wouldn't be talking about it!

    And to actually have enough light to force something besides lettuce to produce fruit you need ALOT of light. And I do mean ALOT of light. Its HARD to reproduce sunlight! Its not cheap to buy that much light fixtures/bulbs. And aquaponics or similar type setups have other ongoing costs too.

    If your goal is lettuce for salads all winter lettuce greens can be grown under lights inside quite easily. I've done it. It doesn't require alot of extra lights, a single grow light would do it. Mind, you don't get HEADS of lettuce, but you get greens you can add to a salad or meal.

    My big hope for things like this is that they'll continue to improve the technology of grow lights/systems while helping drive the prices down to something that the average consumer has a chance of buying. They're getting closer!

  17. It appears that they are using Bright Agrotech's system. They have a you-tube channel and a web page if you are interested. I knew the founder back in college.

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