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Colorado School Taps Container Farm for Classroom, Food Stand

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Freight Farmsí hydroponic vertical container farms use nearly 99% less water than a traditional farm, running with as little as zero to five gallons per day, less than the average dishwasher. (Pixabay)
Freight Farmsí hydroponic vertical container farms use nearly 99% less water than a traditional farm, running with as little as zero to five gallons per day, less than the average dishwasher. (Pixabay)
 By Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO - Producer, Contact
December 9, 2019

HIGHLANDS RANCH, Colo. — A Douglas County High School is using a refrigerated freight container converted into a hydroponic farm as an extension of the classroom.

At Mountain Vista High School in Highlands Ranch, students learn how to grow leafy greens and other vegetables. And David Larsen, who teaches business agriculture at the school, said other learning opportunities branch out from there.

“Then you take all the different aspects of it, like the business side, marketing, branding all those things that we want kids to have practical experience on,” Larsen said. “If you have kids that are interested in engineering technology side of it, there's a control system and automation in there."

Students package and sell their harvests to local restaurants, students' families and staff, and any extra produce goes to retirement homes and food pantries. Larsen said students also gain soft skills such as how to be a good employee, punctuality, engagement, responsibility, and how to be the public face of a business.

Because the climate is controlled inside the container, food can be grown all school year long with a predictable commercial-scale output. A greenery unit can support 13,000 plants at a time, producing harvests of up to 900 heads of lettuce per week. Larsen said the indoor farm also is resistant to shocks such as extreme weather patterns or drought.

"The taste is incredible. When people eat our lettuces, they're like, 'Oh, wow, I didn't know lettuce could taste like that,’” he said. “There's some very interesting varieties of herbs as well. We do a lot of different arugulas. I think the freshness just really sets it apart."

The high-tech containers are the brainchild of the Massachusetts-based company Freight Farms, and are well suited for Colorado. They require a considerable amount of electricity, but use nearly 99% less water than a traditional farm, running with as little as five gallons per day - less than the average dishwasher.

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