Scope2016 - page 34

uppose you could grow crops in a big metal
cargo container. You’d rig it with a closed-
loop hydroponic system, broad-spectrum
LED lights, and climate controls interfaced
with a smartphone app. Such a farm would operate
on just a little electricity, in any climate, regardless of
available land—heck, regardless of atmosphere.
That’s the mission of Freight Farms, founded in
2010 as a pioneer in containerized farming. The idea
is to bring sustainable, year-round food production
closer to consumers, particularly in areas that can’t
support more traditional methods. It’s drawn great
interest from the US space agency NASA, but for Dan
Marino ’06, the name caught his eye first.
After working at Burton Snowboards and at a
Yale University psychiatry lab, Marino was looking
for startup companies. He discovered Freight Farms,
determined that he would “do whatever it took to get
a job there,” and within two weeks became part of mis-
sion control for a fleet of shipping containers outfitted
to grow lettuce, herbs, and other greens.
In a high-tech container,
Marino ’06
shares pink grow-
lights with chard plants.
Mark Morelli
farm anywhere
He’s now head of operations, a job that offers “a
taste of almost everything,” from overseeing farm-
building teams and managing inventory to tending
vendor relationships to coordinating logistics and
transportation of the 40-foot steel boxes—called
Leafy Green Machines—throughout North America.
So far, the firm has sold 85 LGMs to small urban
farmers, restaurant suppliers, educational institutions
such as Clark University, and eco-conscious compa-
nies like Google. He says, “The job keeps me on my
toes; no two days are ever the same.”
In April NASA awarded Freight Farms a small-
business technology transfer grant to work along-
side Clemson University in developing a “self-sustain-
ing crop production unit” that could have applications
in deep space as well as in commerce, disaster relief,
the military, and remote living in harsh climates.
Shipping-container farming may ultimately help
humans boldly go where no man has gone before, but
for now, Marino notes, it’s tapping into a much older
and earthlier agricultural model: growing food where
it’s consumed. With its space-age technology, Freight
Farms “is bringing a new concept to an old economy.”
Marino is also using time-honored skills. “What’s
surprised me is how all business boils down to the
same fundamental principle no matter the size of the
company,” he says. “Whether you are trying to build a
farm, create a search engine, source cheaper alumi-
num, or get a haircut—it’s one individual coming to
an agreement with another over a need or want.”
By supplying fresh, healthy produce in any en-
vironment, Leafy Green Machines may well find a
niche in every corner of the globe. In fact, even the
sky’s no limit.
—Kathryn Gallien
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