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Why College Campuses Should Consider Container Farming

As the world deals with environmental challenges, colleges have a unique opportunity to promote sustainability and foster agricultural innovation. One approach gaining popularity is container farming.

This cutting-edge agricultural method allows higher learning institutions to grow fresh produce in a controlled environment, regardless of the climate. In this blog, we’ll delve into container farming, explore its benefits for colleges and shed light on why this practice is so popular.

What is Container Farming?

Container farming, as a type of hydroponics, is a modern farming technique that involves growing plants in nutrient-rich water solutions instead of traditional soil. This innovative method relies on carefully calibrated environmental factors in order to optimize plant growth.

By using custom shipping containers with advanced controlled environment agriculture (CEA) technology, colleges can create ideal conditions for various crops. This enables year-round growth and significantly reduces water usage compared to traditional growing methods.

A two-story container farm rests on a lawn on a college campus.
Universities are most commonly found in urban centers, but this can separate students from those that grow the produce they eat. Because container farms are portable, college campuses can now supply cafeterias with fresh, local produce.

5 Reasons Why College Container Farming Benefits Universities

College container farming can offer universities a wide variety of opportunities. Below are five reasons colleges and universities should consider having a container farm on campus.

1. Educate Students on Sustainability

Both current and prospective college students are focused on making the world a better place. These students search for education facilities and businesses committed to environmental issues.

In a 2017 Pew Research Center poll, 80% of millennials preferred to work for employers with sustainability practices and their mission statement. And in a 2021 survey by the Princeton Review, 66% of students entering college stated that knowing about a college’s commitment to environmental issues would be a factor in their application decisions.

2. Fulfill Campus Nutritional Needs

Have you ever heard of the ‘freshman 15?’ It’s a common expression that describes weight gain for the first year of college. In other countries like Australia and New Zealand, it’s known as the ‘fresher five’ or the ‘fresher spread.’

Given the increase in obesity in the US, ensuring that all students can receive nutritious food options while on campus can set them up for a lifetime of healthy choices.

On-campus container farming promotes health, wellness and better nutrition. If students can start their university experience with a diverse selection of fresh fruits and greens to choose from, they’ll be well prepared to continue those healthy habits, even when they no longer live on campus.

3. Hands-On Experience

Your agriculture and biology students wouldn’t be the only ones to benefit from an on-campus container farm. College container farming is an excellent way of getting all students from all disciplines to interact and learn about operating the container farm. For example, while those in agriculture and biology will learn about growing with hydroponic technology, engineering and design students can learn more about the mechanics that make a vertical farm function.

Business students can get career experience by creating business plans, marketing materials, and financial analyses. Computer science majors can help maintain or create automation systems.

4. Partnerships with Neighboring Restaurants and Schools

Colleges and universities usually have partnerships with restaurants or cafes that are on campus. Why not further foster these relationships by providing fresh produce and fruits to their chefs? Restaurants and chefs want fresh and locally grown leafy greens, vegetables and herbs to serve customers.

Not only can you use this container farming opportunity to develop your school’s relationship with restaurants further, but you can also use this as an opportunity to partner with other schools, like high schools and junior highs.

Offering tours of your container farm is an excellent way of furthering outreach on sustainability, but it can also get students and schools interested in partnering with you.

5. Show your commitment to sustainability

As mentioned earlier, current and future students want to know that their next adventure will include a business or school that says they are committed to sustainability and living it.
Green colleges and universities are growing in number, ensuring that the school, its staff, and faculty are helping to make the world a better place. At the same time, they can also educate students on healthy living.

A container farm could become a focal point of your enrollment efforts, showing that your institution is committed to developing the next generation of agricultural problem-solvers.

4 College Container Farming Projects Around the U.S.

Cadets at The Citadel inspect hydroponic crops.
Cadets participate in a sustainability project at The Citadel.

Those are five reasons college campuses should consider container farming, but let’s take a closer look at four universities that are implementing sustainable growing programs and seeing an impact on campus life.

1. The Citadel – Charleston, South Carolina

We wrote about The Citadel and its Citadel Sustainability Project, which is designed to create new experiences for military cadets and meets a wide variety of needs for the college itself. The project sees cadets learn about the fundamentals of aeroponic farming, the importance of fresh and nutritious produce, and the future of sustainability. CSP is part of the college’s mission to become a ‘green’ campus by reducing waste; other projects include a campus-wide recycling program and competition.

2. Texas A&M University – College Station, Texas

The first public institution of higher learning in Texas, Texas A&M has continued to be a leading university for agriculture students. The Department of Soil and Crop Sciences recently introduced a new learning initiative called the Texas A&M Urban Farm United or TUFU.

This urban farm uses tower gardens to produce specialty crops. Director and former student Broch Saxton and assistant Lisette Templin started the urban farm project and have plans to use the project to help feed other Aggies on campus.

3. Arizona State University – Tempe, Arizona

ASU has committed to sustainable operations across all its campuses. Its garden commons provide a space for learning and connects them to organic, local foods grown there.

A few years ago, an undergraduate engineering team known as the Aquaponos began using aquaponics, which cultivates aquatic life in addition to produce, as part of the EPICS program and has started to transition into a startup for producing fish and produce for local restaurants.

4. Ohio State University (C0lumbus, Ohio)

Ohio State University has a hydroponics program that makes the produce of its container farms available for students on campus. Students can buy fresh leafy greens and fruit at campus stores, helping fund sustainability efforts at the university.

Summary

College container farming offers universities a unique chance to promote sustainability, educate students on responsible growing practices, and address the demand for locally sourced, fresh produce.

By leveraging this technology, universities can not only enhance campus life but also positively impact the planet.

As we move toward a more environmentally conscious future, colleges that embrace hydroponics are setting an example for the rest of the world.

If you’d like to learn more about container farming, visit our website and fill out a contact form, and we can discuss how we can bring our farms to your campus.