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Newest ‘containers’ have urban appeal: Inside View

Newest 'containers' have urban appeal

November 28, 2014  By Gary Jones

Nov. 28, 2014, Surrey, B.C. — For some, urban agriculture (U.A.) is nothing more than the latest fashion trend. But is it more than that?

According to the World Health Organization, “the urban population in 2014 accounted for 54 per cent of the total global population, up from 34 per cent in 1960, and continues to grow. The urban population growth, in absolute numbers, is concentrated in the less developed regions of the world. It is estimated that, by 2017, even in less developed countries, a majority of people will be living in urban areas.”1 So, how much food do we need?

Well, “by 2025, the number of cities in excess of 10 million people is expected to increase to 29 (U.N., 2009). To sustain a city with such population, a minimum of 6,000 tons of food needs to be imported daily.”2 Think about that for a moment – what does 6,000 tons of food look like? Where do we get that much food from every day for just one – albeit large – city?


Derek Markham reports that, “one potential solution for producing more food in the city, while recycling waste and water, is creating modular vertical farms from shipping containers, such as Hive-Inn™ City Farm.”3

The idea is not new of course – simply Google™ “Shipping Container Growing” and you’ll find that people have been growing “medicinal” crops in this way for some time. But bringing this concept into the middle of the city for mainstream food production is new. As Markham points out, “where there’s plenty of usable space, farms and gardens can be as spread out horizontally as the grower has room for, but in the city, where physical space is a very limited resource, the only possible place for urban farms to grow is up.”3

Hive-Inn™ City Farm is not the only container farming example. “Growtainer™” describe their system as “a specially designed and constructed 40’ insulated shipping container that has been modified to provide the optimum controlled vertical environment for growing a wide range of horticultural and agricultural products in all environments and climates. The results are a significantly higher yield in a shorter time than all conventional production methods.

“With a Growtainer container, it is now possible to grow almost anything, almost anywhere. Growtainer containers are mobile and stackable…Each unit is equipped with our proprietary Growtroller control system, so unique that it almost eliminates the need for a full-time grower. A positive pressure environment creates a natural barrier against pests and disease.”4

Similarly, Sarah Shemkus reports in the Guardian (July 2014) about Kate Hofman and Tom Webster who “are giving new meaning to the phrase “box lunch” with their reinvented shipping container, the “GrowUp Box.”

“Inside the 20-foot container, tilapia are farmed in tanks specially designed to ensure the fish enough room to grow, while on top, greens are cultivated in vertical columns. The water from the tilapia tanks circulates through the columns, where the fish waste provides nourishment to about 400 plants. The fish and greens are sold to area restaurants.”5

Designer Damien Chivialle calls his system “Urban Farm Units (UFU)” and says that this “is a farming experiment inside shipping containers. Organic fish, fruits and vegetables are produced in the street, avoiding unnecessary travels and providing meaning to food consumption in downtown cities. All prototypes are based on circular agriculture techniques.”6

Growing containers might help solve the urban space issue. But they also provide all-year-round controlled environments in locations that would otherwise not support crop production; they use limited water and fertilizer inputs efficiently; reduce waste and can provide “clean” space for production, breeding or research. All right at the heart of where 53 per cent of the population now live.

Fashion or not, this type of container production will likely soon be a critical part of our local food system. 

1WHO: accessed September 2014. 3 4 5‘Next-gen urban farms: 10 innovative projects from around the world.’ Sarah Shemkus, Wednesday 2 July 2014 6Urban Farm Units, at


Gary Jones is co-chair of Horticulture at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Langley, B.C. He serves on several industry committees and welcomes comments at

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