Shipping container to grow leafy greens year-round arrives

An insulated shipping container outfitted with a complete hydroponic growing system that will provide numerous Minnesotans with fresh, leafy greens year-round recently reached its destination.

The container farm made a stop at Great River Energy’s Maple Grove office before making its way to Central Lakes College’s Ag and Energy Center in Staples, Minnesota.

Central Lakes College’s (CLC) Ag and Energy Center in Staples is the new home of ‘Sota Grown, a collaborative indoor agriculture project between Todd-Wadena Electric Cooperative (TWEC), Lakewood Health System (LHS), Great River Energy, the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and the college.

Following installation of the container farm, CLC students will receive hands-on training to plant, maintain and harvest the growing crops—the first of which will be kale, ready to be harvested 10 weeks from planting. The kale will then be delivered to LHS for its “Food Farmacy” program that feeds more than 600 people monthly.

Great River Energy, TWEC and EPRI will collect data throughout the process for electricity load planning, technology evaluation, and beneficial rate design analysis.

“Efficiencies with indoor food production and hydroponics will be critical as we look to feeding a growing global population that will surpass 9 billion in a few decades,” said CLC’s Dean of Agriculture Studies Keith Olander.

The ‘Sota Grown project is part of a national indoor crop production demonstration effort that looks at how using efficient electricity, technology, plant sciences and control solutions to create microclimates can produce ideal conditions for plant growth, yield, quality and consistency.

“This project represents the soul of electric cooperatives – innovation and community collaboration – because it uses electricity in a new way together with awesome community partners,” said David Ranallo, director of culture, communications, marketing and member services at Great River Energy. “We are in a position to be on the leading edge of this technology with EPRI, and are happy to help bring this to Staples.”

Growing produce locally for area communities will also reduce distance to market—a significant factor for Todd and Wadena counties since they are impacted by food deserts—thereby reducing net greenhouse gas emissions. Leafy greens generally travel an average of 2,000 miles before reaching a store.

A ribbon-cutting event where the public will be able to view and tour the container farm will be held this spring. People interested in following the process from seedlings to the first harvest can view the ‘Sota Grown Facebook page.