Cass Community Social Services (Cass) and Ford Motor Company Fund recently unveiled the second piece of their Ford Mobile Farm project collaboration: the Ford Freight Farm, a 40 ft. shipping container that grows nutritious food hydroponically.
Cass -- a Detroit, Mich. nonprofit dedicated to providing area residents with food, housing, health services and job training -- is housing the Ford Freight Farm in a shipping bay at its World Building headquarters in Detroit. A small space has been developed, creating a teaching area for school classes, volunteers and others.
The Ford Fund and Cass are longtime collaborators on community projects, including the Cass tiny homes neighborhood.
The 40 ft. freight container is equipped with LED lighting to enable seeds to sprout and vegetables to grow. The indoor farm operates without the use of pesticides, sunlight or soil. It also utilizes 90% less water than normal. Hundreds of vertical towers house produce that is fed by water infused with nutrients. The container has the growing capacity of up to two acres of land and will produce up to 52 harvests per year. The unit will be partially powered by solar panels to reduce the environmental impact and offset operating costs.
“This is urban gardening at its best because we can grow in every season of the year, and it delivers fresh produce farm to table in half an hour,” Cass executive director Faith Fowler said.
Cass is currently growing lettuce, greens and herbs that will be utilized in the nonprofit’s community kitchen, which serves more than 700,000 meals each year. The growth cycle for current plant varieties (lettuce, mustard greens, basil, Swiss chard and kale) is approximately four to five weeks from seed to mature plant (ready for harvest). Harvests will be staggered, allowing Cass to continually start growing new plants.
In addition to providing fresh, healthy produce to its community kitchen, the Ford Freight Farm will also provide some part-time employment opportunities for adults with development disabilities. Beginning in 2019, produce will be sold to area restaurants to create an income stream to help support the freight farm.
In March 2018, Ford Fund and Cass unveiled the first part of the Ford Mobile Farm project, introducing the mobile piece of the project; a F-150 pickup truck with a garden bed and glass geometric cover that visits local schools to teach healthy eating habits and provide hands-on learning opportunities for children. The Mobile Farm school program runs in the spring and fall seasons.
“The Ford Mobile Farm project is a product of young people at Ford applying new solutions to one of the oldest and most systemic challenges in society: the issue of food insecurity,” said Jim Vella, president of the Ford Motor Company Fund, the philanthropic arm of Ford Motor Co. “We are proud to expand our partnership with Cass Community Social Services with such an exciting and innovative project and look forward to the positive impact the Ford Mobile Farm will have within the community for generations to come.”