On Wednesday, Ford Motors and Detroit’s Cass Community Social Services announced a new hydroponic container farm that will grow produce year-round and help to feed Detroit’s food-insecure areas.
The 40-foot shipping container was donated by the Ford’s philanthropic arm, the Ford Motor Company Fund. It’s the second part of a larger $250,000 grant from Cass Community Social Services received from the Ford Motor Farm project. In March of 2018, Ford and Cass unveiled the first part, a F-150 Ford pickup with a garden bed and glass cover that visits local schools.
This latest initiative, dubbed the Ford Freight Farm, will reportedly be used to grow lettuce and greens that will be used in Cass’s non-profit community kitchen, which serves up over 700,000 meals per year. The meals themselves go towards feeding Detroit’s homeless population.
Like other container farms, this one uses LED lighting and has a capacity equivalent to two acres of traditional farmland. That gives Ford and Cass the ability to grow up to 52 harvests per year. “This is urban gardening at its best because we can grow in every season of the year,” Cass Executive Director, Faith Fowler, said in the press release. “And it delivers fresh produce, farm-to-table in half an hour!”
Ford Motor Farm is housed at the Cass Community Social Services’ World Building in Detroit and operates without soil, sunlight, or pesticides. And in addition to providing food, it will also offer some part-time employment to adults with development disabilities.
The entire project was conceived by a group of Ford employees who, in 2017, participated in the company’s philanthropic leadership program called Thirty under 30. The group was tasked with improving Ford’s mobile food pantries
It also underscores a question I keep hearing in conversations with people: urban farming sounds great in theory, but is it a realistic solution to helping feed food-insecure populations? Or as one writer put it, Is urban farming only for rich hipsters?
That’s not to depreciate the good work done by startups like Square Roots, Freight Farms, and the dozens of others looking at new ways to farm more locally. Realistically, though, container farms have high operational costs, high labor costs and require funds to educate those who do the actual care for the plants (because at the end of the day, farming is a skill). Little wonder, then, that the leafy greens coming from these farms cost anywhere from $5 to $15 per bag.
Even so, there’s a rising need to make the benefits of urban farming accessible to a wider population. Backing from a company like Ford will be one approach we’re likely to see more of in the future.