Phoenix resident uses freight car to grow leafy greens year-round

It’s no secret that farming is difficult in the Valley’s desert climate. The choking summer heat and lack of rain aren’t exactly the most favorable conditions for growing plants.

However, one local has found a way to bypass Phoenix’s harsh environment by growing plants in an environment he can control—a freight car.

How does it work?

Mark Norton of Phoenix wanted to find a way to help people improve their health while also helping the environment, so he bought a refitted freight car from Boston-based Freight Farms for $85,000. He is one of two freight farmers in the state, according to an AZ Central article.

The car uses hydroponics technology to grow leafy greens without soil and with little water. Red and blue lights inside the car encourage photosynthesis, and water and nutrients are automatically delivered to the plants when needed. The plants are grown vertically, which allows for the water that drains through them to be recycled and used again the next time they need watered. This process uses 90 to 95 percent less water than traditional farming. The automated process is recorded on a phone application that the farmers use to track their plants’ growth.

Romaine heads being transplanted in the freight car. Image by Picked Fresh Farms.

What’s different about these plants?

Norton emphasizes that his plants are not grown with genetically-modified (GMO) seeds or any type of pesticide or herbicide, simply because they don’t need to be.  They don’t face the same problems as other crops grown in harsh outdoor conditions would, such as destructive insects, invasive weeds or lack of fertile soil.

Norton also claims on his website that because the plants are grown under such a controlled environment, “there is little risk of poor crop quality or quantity,” and they should stay fresh for two weeks. Because freight farmers can control the amount of water and nutrients getting to the plants, as well as the amount of light, humidity and heat they are exposed to, positive results can be consistently expected.

The plants can also be grown year-round since they don’t depend on climate. Once a plant is harvested, another is immediately put in its place to maximize the farm’s output.

Another plus to this type of farming is its contribution to local business. Because the plants are grown right here in the Valley, they don’t need to travel long distances to get to customers, which saves on carbon emissions. The system of recycling water also prevents the production of polluting runoff, which is beneficial for the environment.

How can I buy freight-grown produce?

Norton grows kale and lettuce, then sells the produce online through his business, Picked Fresh Farms. Customers can purchase one box at a time, or they can sign up for a four-week or eight-week subscription plan. Once customers order their produce, they can pick it up at one of five Scottsdale and Arcadia locations.

The farm also runs Facebook and Instagram accounts so customers can see how the process works and what plants are being grown.

Jessica Swarner

Author: Jessica Swarner

Jessica studies political science and journalism at ASU's honors college and works in a cybersecurity lab. Her hobbies include reading up on hacker forums on Tor and giving unsolicited podcast recommendations.

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