Local, organic farming is very trendy. But it’s not easy in urban environments — or any place that has a real winter.

Boston startup Freight Farms was thinking outside the box when it came up a solution. It engineered a way to grow food — without soil or sun — that’s actually inside a box.

The company “upcycles” used shipping containers and turns them into small hydroponic farms. Its first product, the Leafy Green Machine, can grow herb, lettuce, and brassica varieties. The units, which cost $70,000, use nutrient-dense water instead of soil and LED lights in place of the sun.


A high-tech irrigation system circulates the water through narrow troughs on the floor and sides of the container, where plants can grow from the seed stage until they are ready to eat. Red and blue lights automatically cycle on and off to simulate day and night.

Because the shipping containers are insulated, outdoor temperatures do not affect plant growth. And there’s no need for a large tract of land — just enough space for a standard, 8-by-40-foot container, which can yield as much produce as a 1-acre farm plot. The boxes can be stacked vertically where ground space is tight.

So far, Freight Farms has sold 20 Leafy Green Machines to restaurants and entrepreneurs who see opportunities growing produce in urban environments.

Callum Borchers can be reached at callum.borchers@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @callumborchers.