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BrightBox Farms:

Gideon Saunders sees Alaska’s farming future in hydroponics

Nestled alongside an otherwise ordinary house on Kodiak rests a shipping container. It seems out of place, but even more conspicuous is the garden inside of it. BrightBox Farm’s growing area looks like a prop from a movie about space exploration. Using this shipping container has enabled Gideon Saunders to conquer the seasons that otherwise rule Kodiak’s gardens.

Inside the container are hanging racks of lettuce and other greens, interspersed with panels of blindingly bright ultraviolet lights. A panel filled with nutrients feeds into a water tank at the back, which in turn drip feeds into the hydroponics system. The air is supplemented by a carbon dioxide tank, ensuring that the plants want for nothing.

The container is controlled entirely by an app. And it even comes with built-in Bluetooth speakers. But it’s function over form for the container: Saunders boasts that with less than 30 man-hours of work, he could use it to grow 1,000 heads of lettuce a week.

This sort of production doesn’t come cheap. Saunders says that the unit costs around $100,000 with shipping and handling. But as the march of technological progress inevitably pushes prices down, it will become more cost-effective for small farmers to invest in equipment like this.

And Saunders says it already is cost-effective, although his container is supplemented with a small homemade grow in his garage. He sells microgreens by way of subscription service- in which he provides bags of greens to subscribers on a weekly basis for a monthly fee- and by sales at the local farmers’ market. Even on an island known for its challenges to gardening and commercial shipping, herbivores can enjoy fresh, locally-grown produce all year long.

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