In March, Freight Farms announced its new container farm — The Greenery — that the company says will allow growers to produce 70% more products than its previous farms. Outfitted with LEDs and sensors that collect data through the growing process, The Greenery is what founders Jon Friedman and Brad McNamara see as the next step in the company’s mission to make food more local.
Produce Grower: Freight Farms recently launched The Greenery, a successor to the Leafy Green Machine. How long does it take to develop that new growing model?
Jon Friedman: We’ve got over 200 farmers out there on the network at this point and we don’t talk about that a lot. We’re very heads down but when we look at all the feedback we’ve gotten in over the original LGM models, each year we try to put in more work so our customers get more. It ultimately took about four years. We realized we had to build a completely new framework. We really reached a breaking point out there about [the] fourth generation of the LGM. We realized there’s no way we could really have pushed this that much further; we can’t really make that quantum leap unless we really overhaul the entire system and start from the beginning.
PG: What are the most uncommon crops you’ve seen growers produce in your systems?
Brad McNamara: It’s kind of old habits now but I think all of the strawberry trials — strawberries have become the new ‘it’ crop in the last eight to 10 months. That’s been fun, to watch people on the network experiment with different strawberries and then talk to us about it close to our very own. The entire berry phase is obviously very exciting right now.
JF: And we have people who are growing flowers for reasons other than food. We have had people who are looking for edible flowers. That’s a very popular market in the produce space right now, especially for high-end restaurants. We’re not seeing people who are looking at flowers and things that can be uniquely grown in The Greenery as opposed to an open-air greenhouse.
PG: Freight Farms was represented at South by Southwest this year. What does appearing at an event of that scale do for your brand?
BM: It’s no longer just a text, music, it may be a little bit of politics mixed in. It’s encompassing to larger social issues and so being there, and just being represented, it was really probably interesting to sort of hear how food connects through all of the different channels that are really important at South by Southwest. That’s something that’s been a little surprising to me, personally. We knew how important food was and food production and localizing food and the idea of creating a distributive network, but I don’t think you can really grasp how pervasive and kind of omnipresent that idea is throughout all the different areas of shelf life.