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Shipping containers become urban farms with startup Square Roots

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Three cheers for locally grown food

Two big design trends—shipping containers and urban farming—have come together in the new Brooklyn-based venture Square Roots. Recently profiled in our video series “Curbed Makers,” the roughly half-year-old startup co-founded by Kimbal Musk—younger brother to Tesla boss Elon Musk—and Tobias Peggs wants to revolutionize food with urban container farms that grow produce to sell locally.

Its first “campus”, designed architect and sustainability expert Thomas Kosbau of Ore Design, takes over a parking lot in Brooklyn’s Bed-Stuy neighborhood and includes 10 containers—each vertically packing two acres worth of farmland in under 320 square feet. As an urban farming accelerator, Square Roots has turned the containers over to 10 young food entrepreneurs, who have specialties ranging from lettuce and shiso to astro arugula and tuscan kale.

Square Roots farmers hand-deliver produce to local offices.

The hydroponic produce is grown pesticide- and GMO-free indoors, under futuristic LED purple light, which is actually the red and blue parts of the spectrum optimal for crop growth. The produce is then sold directly within the community via freshly packed deliveries to folks’ offices, farmers’ markets, or even to local restaurants. Square Roots claims its systems use 80 percent less water than outdoor farms and the company also plans to incorporate solar power in the future.

Intrigued? The first group of Square Roots growers are about half-way through the year-long program. The startup is now taking applications for the next cohort. Square Roots is also planning to expand to 20 more cities by 2020, with each campus offering 10 to 100 container farms.

Inside a Square Roots container farm.

For those interested in community farming and have some land to work with, a startup called Farm From a Box offers a $50,000 container farm starter kit that includes essentially everything you need to operate a small farm that feeds up to 150 people, minus the land itself. For handy folks in denser urban locales, check out “Growroom,” a freestanding DIY spherical farm that came out of Ikea’s innovation and design lab Space10. Construction details can be found right over here.