Auburn University’s College of Agriculture has figured out a way to convert shipping containers into self-contained farms that provide food for Auburn’s dining facilities and offer learning opportunities for agriculture students.
The college acquired two shipping containers made from the Boston-based Freight Farms company in April. Now they are high-tech hydroponic growing stations where plants grow vertically indoors.
These “vertical” farms are the first step in the College of Agriculture’s 16-acre Transformation Garden on the south end of campus on Lem Morrison Drive.
“These are state of the art,” said Desmond Layne, head of the Department of Horticulture. “Auburn students are growing food for Auburn students.”
Produce from the containers will be consumed in Auburn University’s cafeteria system, including the new $26 million dining facility set to open in the fall.
Associate Professor of Horticulture Daniel Wells, who taught a vertical farming course this spring and leads operations of the vertical farms, shared insight into how vertical farms work during a tour of one of the containers on Thursday.
“We can control all the growth factors from temperature, relative humidity, [carbon dioxide], water, nutrients and, of course, light,” Wells said.
The plants receive the light they need through red and blue-colored LED lights, and the containers allow for the control of carbon dioxide levels, which Wells says helps the crops grow faster.
The new vertical farms build on a five-year College of Agriculture and Campus Dining partnership that began with the Auburn Aquaponic Project. Today, fish from this effort are served in dining facilities on the Auburn campus.
“The Transformation Garden is going to be just that – it’s going to be a transformation of our campus food system,” said Glenn Loughridge, director of dining and concessions. “This is going to allow us to have even more produce that we’re able to serve in our campus dining facilities.”
Kyle Hensarling, a master’s student in horticulture studying hydroponics and aquaponics, leads undergraduate students in the project and says working with “new and emerging” technology in hydroponics is “exactly what I’m here to learn and to do.”
“To be able to work with one of the brand-new pieces of technology in horticulture is very exciting and very rewarding,” he said. “I didn’t have this type of technology when I was in undergrad, so being able to lead new undergrads in this new hands-on experience with new and emerging technology is very rewarding.”