Even deep in the clutches of a biting New England winter, Julia Pope ’14 and her colleagues enjoy freshly picked organic spinach, basil and crisp romaine lettuce that they grow themselves at their offices in Boston, Massachusetts.
Their startup company, Freight Farms, founded in 2010, modifies large shipping containers to house hydroponic, sustainable growing systems that can produce thousands of different high-yield crops, from lettuces to herbs to popular greens like kale and rainbow chard.
After graduating from Conn with a double major in anthropology and art, Pope spent 12 months working for the AmeriCorps service program City Year in an underserved neighborhood of Boston, and then worked for a year as a school teacher. During that time, she learned about the glaring lack of access to healthy food and fresh produce in many urban areas throughout the U.S. and decided she wanted to address the issue directly.
Pope now serves as the head of education and farmer success at Freight Farms. The company’s customers span the globe—from Arkansas to Dubai—and include colleges and universities, corporate campuses such as Google, restaurants and even traditional soil farmers looking to supplement their income.
Each 40-foot shipping container farm dubbed Leafy Green Machines, produces about as much as a two-acre soil farm, and requires little more than a power source, a predetermined cocktail of nutrients, less than five gallons of water per day and a few hours of labor each week. The insulated, entirely climate-controlled “farm-in-a-box” is outfitted with LED lights and an automated irrigation system that can be monitored from a laptop or smartphone using Freight Farm’s custom-designed program, farmhand.
Pope says her dream is to see a Leafy Green Machine outside of every school in America, not only for the nutritional benefits but for the educational value as well.
“Having a background in education, I get really excited every time a new school gets one of our setups, because beyond providing good food, it ... serves as a great tool for teaching and practicing sustainability,” she said.
Pope hopes more urban areas join Freight Farms’ list of customers as funding for sustainable agriculture projects increases.
“People hear leafy greens, and they think we’re only talking about lettuce,” Pope explains. “But we’re able to grow things people probably never even dreamed about, like my personal favorite crop, spicy wasabi arugula. It’s amazing!”