Taking Food Production to the Classroom — In a 40' Shipping Container

Edmonton’s Prairie Urban Farm has an ambitious goal. They hope to convert a shipping container into a traveling food factory — a project that will require $100,000 to complete.

Prairie Urban Farm has been running on the University of Alberta’s south campus for two years now. It was developed out of a growing concern that consumers are losing the connection to the origin of the food they eat.

Debra Davidson, a professor in the Faculty of Agriculture, Life and Environmental Sciences at the university, is the program’s director.

Photo Credit: Prairie Urban Farm.
Photo Credit: Prairie Urban Farm.

“The intention of Prairie Urban Farm is to serve as a demonstration and outreach centre,” she said, “and also, it is offered as a community farm, in an effort to basically try to encourage enthusiasm for getting directly involved in growing food, but also…to expose [consumers] to what food production is all about.”

Last year, the farm saw so many requests from schools in the region that they had to turn some away, which inspired their latest initiative — Farm on Wheels.

The goal behind Farm on Wheels is to expose teachers, students and administrators to indoor growing technology, plant growth, and the economics behind season-extension opportunities. As a retrofitted shipping container, the farm could travel to host schools and remain for an extended period of time, allowing more students to experience food production.

The outfit doesn’t really do much to resemble large-scale agriculture, but it acts as a conversation starter, explains Davidson.

“We don’t by any means mean to suggest, in any sort of utopian sense, that field-based agriculture can be replaced. This is a technology that will allow students to observe the production of a plant from seed to harvest in their own classrooms…That’s a pretty fundamental experience that we can’t offer students living in cities.”

She says the project will open questions to growing food, and open avenues that look at the economics of food production.

Farm on Wheels conceptualization
Farm on Wheels conceptualization.

In March, Prairie Urban Farm started an Indiegogo campaign to crowd-source the $100,000 they will need to get this farm on its wheels. The money they raise will go towards purchasing a 40′ shipping container ($15,000), converting it into a food factory ($35,000), purchasing the ZipGrow infrastructure ($30,000), and marketing/administrating the result.

So far, the group has raised only 3% of their goal, but Davidson remains positive, saying the campaign has helped them build valuable relationships. She says the group is hoping to break ground well before they reach their goal.

This interview with Debra Davidson was recorded on April 7, 2016. To date, the group has raised a little over $2000, with two days left in the campaign.

Prairie Urban Farm | Farm on Wheels Campaign

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