Freight Farms, a major player in the world of containerized vertical farms, announced today a partnership with foodservice and facilities management company Sodexo. Together, the two aim to bring Freight Farms’ hydroponic vertical farms into school campuses across the U.S., according to a press release sent by Freight Farms.
In North America alone, Sodexo serves over 13,000 client sites, many of them school cafeterias and university dining halls. The new partnership means Boston-based Freight Farms will be able to implement its Greenery container farms in more locations. At the moment, the company has 35 of these farms set up at educational and corporate campuses. The Sodexo partnership will expand that number “rapidly,” according to the press release, as the two companies implement more farms at both K-12 schools and university campuses that are Sodexo customers.
The 320-sq-foot Greenery farm uses hydroponics to grow leafy greens and herbs inside climate-controlled shipping containers. Users control watering and nutrient schedules and access data on their plants via the company’s proprietary Farmhand software, which can be accessed via the user’s smartphone. The idea is to equip growers with a turnkey offering they can flip on from anywhere in the world and use to grow food with relatively little hassle.
For schools in particular, that means outfitting students and teachers with not just freshly harvested food for the cafeteria but also potential new curriculum around technology, agriculture, and business, if students are allowed to work directly with the farms. Co-founder and CEO of Freight Farms Brad McNamara told me last year that the Greenery “allows us the opportunity to not only feed a demographic and teach them how to farm.”
Still, vertical farming has yet to prove itself in terms of scale and economics. Part of determining the success of the Freight Farms-Sodexo partnership will lie in getting more data on how well the vertical farms function in an institutional environment. Many vertical farms geared towards institutional levels of food production promise simple “plug in and grow” solutions. Not all of them deliver as promised.
And beyond basic functionality of the farms, we also need more information about whether or not its truly cost-effective to bring these farms into schools and cafeterias in place of greens transported across the country. Will the reduction in water usage and food waste translate into money saved for these institutions? Freight Farms noted in the press release that in some parts of the country, those using the Greenery can actually make their operations water positive. We don’t, however, have any numbers on how beneficial being water positive is to these organizations’ overall margins, and if it offsets, say, the electricity required to run the farms.
This isn’t the first food-tech-focused initiative Sodexo has embarked on in the recent past. In 2019, the company partnered with Starship to bring wheeled food delivery robots to college campuses in the U.S. The company also launched an Impossible Burger menu at 1,500 of its U.S. locations.
Sodexo’s sheer reach (it’s a multi-national corporation with services all over the world) gives it a certain amount of influence over the educational sector’s meals many others wouldn’t have. If the partnership with Freight Farms can showcase both the health and economical benefits from hyper-local, hyper-traceable, longer-lasting greens onsite, it could open the door to more schools and institutions considering some form of indoor farming onsite.