Indoor Microfarming: Benefits, costs, and profits

Reasons to Start Container Farming

Indoor microfarming is a trendy alternative to outdoor farming.

Outdoor, or field, farming is declining as land costs and soil erosion make it increasingly harder to start a farm. In its place, small indoor farms are popping up to meet increasing demand for locally produced food.

Did you know small farms produce more than 70 percent of the world’s food?

Microfarms are versatile. They can be created in any small room like shipping containers, bedrooms, and garages.

In this article, you’ll learn all about indoor microfarms including its benefits, costs, and how to profit from one.

Basics of Indoor Microfarming

Indoor microfarming refers to small-scale farms in urban or suburban areas.

The ability to control environmental factors like lighting, humidity, and temperature is the biggest advantage that indoor farming has over outdoor farming.

Indoor alternatives to field farming, like greenhouses, have been around for thousands of years, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that controlled environment farms emerged.

Farmers use a variety of different systems to grow plants indoors. Aquaponics, hydroponics, and aeroponics are a few of the most popular systems after using traditional soil.

Aquaponics refers to using fish to grow plants. In these systems, fish fertilize water that’s fed to the plants. The plants in turn purify the water, which is fed back into the fish tanks.

Hydroponic systems grow crops by watering plants with a nutrient-rich solution. Instead of soil, plants are grown in a nutrition-less growing medium that allows plants to absorb the nutrients from the water easier than if they were grown in soil.

In aeroponic systems, plants are grown with their roots exposed in highly misted environments. The mist is created using a nutrient solution.

We use hydroponic systems to cultivate crops in our Pure Greens container farms, which are made out of shipping containers.

Indoor microfarms are often started using spare space like an unused basement, guest room, or garage in the farmer’s home. But they can also be started in any small, indoor area like a shipping container.

The ability to use a small space to grow produce is only one of indoor microfarming’s many benefits.

Benefits of Indoor Microfarming

Indoor microfarming is beneficial because it fills demand for certain produce while saving money and stress.

As far as selling goes, demand for locally produced food across the United States is increasing.

Nielsen, a data and measurement firm, found that 48% of consumers prefer ingredients and food that have been produced locally.

Indoor microfarming fills this demand by being produced in the center of commercial areas, guaranteeing locality.

Purchasing land or buildings big enough for large-scale operations is expensive. Indoor microfarming allows people to use the buildings they already live in to start growing.

Capital expenses are also lower because you don’t have to purchase new land. Plus, equipment isn’t as expensive for microfarms due to availability of ready-for-installation systems and “Do It Yourself” (DIY) tutorials.

With smaller capital expenses comes a lower stakes environment.  

When you’ve put less money into a project, there’s less pressure to succeed. Feel free to experiment with systems and crop types to find what works best for your farm.

Indoor microfarming also allows you to develop a local customer base and specialize in a niche market.

Having already secured customers and perfected a crop will help when you’re ready to expand.

Indoor microfarming also allows restauranteurs to grow their own produce onsite, reducing food waste by being able to harvest only what’s needed rather than buying in bulk. Customers will also appreciate the fresher tasting food!

Another benefit of indoor microfarming systems is that there isn’t just one way to do it.

Microfarming Systems

Because microfarming can be done using virtually any size of space, there’s a wide variety of systems to pick from.

Our Pure Greens container farms are an excellent choice for those with yard space for a 40 foot shipping container.

Our farms come outfitted with a recirculating hydroponic system, providing a low water consumption rate, and an automated controlled environment system that can be monitored via your smartphone.

For farmers with less space to work with, there are a few smaller purchasable and DIY options out there as well.

Ready-to-use hydroponic systems can be purchased online or from a local hydroponic equipment store.

One popular DIY hydroponic system for beginners is the Kratky method.

The Kratky method is easy as it doesn’t require pumps or changing the nutrient solution. In this system, plants are placed in a netted pot with a growing medium, such as coconut coir or clay balls, and then placed into a reservoir filled with water and nutrient solution.

While this method is good for farmers with very little experience, it’s only effective for growing leafy greens. Anything with flowers or fruits will need a more involved process.

The Kratky method also requires close attention to the water’s pH levels because it’s not replaced or adjusted during the grow cycle.

Aeroponic systems are also buildable but require a little bit more expertise with construction. Plants grown in these systems receive maximum nutrients.

But aeroponic systems are less common than hydroponic systems when it comes to home-growing because they require special attention to nutrient ratios and pH levels, making them not very beginner-friendly.

Aquaponic systems are a good choice for people interested in fish farming. If you raise healthy enough fish, you can sell them along with your produce.

Keep in mind aquaponic systems require more maintenance than hydroponic or aeroponic systems and they’re a little trickier.

With these systems you have to keep both the fish and the plants happy. Doing so requires finding the delicate balance of water flow between the two.

Deciding on which system to use can be tricky, but your expenses will depend heavily on the system you decide to use.

Indoor Microfarming Costs

Capital and operating expenses of indoor microfarming varies depending on the type of system and size of the operation.

The first expense is going to be buying the system itself or any materials needed to construct it. You may need to purchase tubs, pumps, and pipes.

You’ll also need to purchase light fixtures, so your plants have a light source to use for photosynthesis. During photosynthesis, plants absorb energy from light to produce glucose out of carbon dioxide and water.

There are plenty of LED lights in the market aimed specifically toward growing plants. Look for bulbs with high efficiency to conserve energy usage.

Because indoor microfarming typically relies on artificial light rather than sunlight, energy costs can be high. A 2017 survey of indoor farms found that small farms spent about $3.45 per square foot on energy alone, which was about 12% of the total budget.

Take into consideration water usage as well. Systems like recirculating hydroponics and aeroponics use considerably less water than aquaponic and soil-based systems.

Hydroponic and aeroponic systems typically require 4 gallons of water per square foot per year. Meanwhile, aquaponic systems use about 10 gallons of water per square foot per year.

Be sure to also factor in any fish costs such as a tank, food, and the animals themselves when using aquaponic systems.

Once your indoor microfarm is ready to grow, you’ll need to buy planting materials.

Planting expenses will be recurring so be sure to keep them in mind while budgeting. Purchase seeds, growing mediums, and nutrient solution online or in stores.

Growing mediums and nutrient solutions replace soil in hydroponic and some aeroponic systems. The growing medium acts as support for the plants’ roots while the solution provides essential nutrients for strong, healthy plants.

While indoor microfarming can be costly, there are plenty of strategies for growing your business.

How to get a loan for your container farm business

Profiting from your Microfarm

The first step to making a profit from indoor microfarming comes before you even plant a single crop: Research.

Find demand for a product in the local market that isn’t being met. Meet with potential customers like chefs, grocery stores, and farmers’ market patrons and ask what they’d like to be able to purchase fresh.

Focus on growing specialty crops rather than common produce like lettuce.

Specialty crops can be things that are out of season, hard to grow in your climate, or something trendy such as microgreens or adaptogens.

Consider selling your products at farmers’ markets, to vendors, to wholesale distributors, and to local restaurants.

The number of farmers’ markets in the country has tripled since 2000, making it an easy choice for finding customers.

Research popular farmers’ markets in your area and learn how to set up shop. Keep in mind that some markets will charge a fee to set-up a booth.

Alternatively, approach a different produce vendor and let them sample your product. If all goes well, they will sell your product for you!

Find a middleman by selling to wholesale distributors. Distributors will find shops to sell your products for you, giving you more time to focus on growing.

Or sell your produce directly to local restaurants.

Research chefs who focus on crafting dishes using locally sourced greens. Set up an appointment with chefs to pitch your business to them and be sure to bring along your best samples.

Try to establish a rapport with the restaurant. Find out whether they’d prefer a range of products or a specific good.

After you’ve established your clientele, your indoor microfarm will blossom.

Now that you’re familiar with indoor microfarming, it’s time to get started.

Visit our website or call us at 602-753-3469 to learn more about how you can start your own container farm.