LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) – A 40-foot-long shipping container in the parking lot of The Bay will soon be filled with a whole lot of green.
In partnership with Beyond School Bells, The Bay is launching The Greenery, a self-contained hydroponic farm housed in a repurposed shipping container. Members of Beyond School Bells and The Bay gathered with local leaders last week to officially launch the program.
Much like The Bay’s other youth-focused programs, The Greenery is designed to allow students access to engaging, hands-on activities – in this case growing food.
“We are thrilled about the opportunity to be able to turn kids on to sustainable agriculture,” said Andrew Norman, executive director and co-founder of The Bay’s parent organization Rabble Mill. “A lot of the kids in our neighborhood have never seen anything like this; none of us have.”
The Lincoln Journal Star reports the Greenery setup is designed by the Boston-based company Freight Farms. Beyond School Bells was able to purchase the unit through a partnership with the Ben Hormel Harris Foundation, said state Sen. Anna Wishart, the director of partnerships for Beyond School Bells. Several local companies and individuals donated their time to help get it up and running.
Through vertical planting that doesn’t require soil, the shipping container is able to house 13,000 plants at a time, or about as much food as a 2.5-acre farm. Throughout the container are thousands of red and blue LED lights that can be precisely controlled through the trailer’s high-tech programming to provide the perfect amount and color of light for each plant, said Doak Field, director of operations at Freight Farms.
The setup is also water-efficient, as the water that flows throughout the trailer is repumped through the cycle.
“Everything is just way more efficient than growing outside,” Field said. “You can get the exact science down to whatever you need to grow.”
Field said the team hopes to start planting the container within the next two weeks and is planning to start with greens such as lettuces and kale, as well as herbs.
The program leaders plan to sell the food grown at the Greenery at local farmers markets or through weekly community-supported agriculture projects. They’ll also source produce to local restaurants.
While many of the similar freight farm projects that have popped up across the country have been for profit and run by adults, Lincoln’s will be one of only a few that are not-for-profit and youth-focused, Wishart said.
Beyond School Bells works statewide to provide after-school opportunities for students like The Greenery, she said.
“Our goal is to ensure that every kid, no matter where they grow up in Nebraska, has access to quality out-of-school programming and this freight farm is absolutely an example of that,” she said.
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The project will offer an opportunity for students to learn a variety of skills, Wishart said, and University of Nebraska-Lincoln honor students will also play a role in mentoring younger students working on the project.
“This also creates an incredible platform for youth to learn entrepreneurship and about sustainable, high-tech agriculture and future careers in that space,” Wishart said.
The Greenery project is part of a series of environmental-focused projects across the state that Beyond School Bells is working on, the organization’s network lead Jeff Cole said.
“This will be the crown jewel,” he said. “But we’re already starting to do investments in rural Nebraska around outdoor classrooms, environmental education and a series of other things across the state.”
Lincoln Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird said she sees the project as an example of innovative, environmentally friendly solutions that can help move the city forward.
“This is such a wonderful demonstration of how we can take better care of the Earth, create greater value for everyone in our community and hand something on to the next generation, something that they can have a leadership role in,” Gaylor Baird said.
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