MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) -- A shipping container and a lot of ingenuity -- is changing the way produce is grown.

"It's a 3.4 acre farm inside a 320 square foot shipping container," explained Dale Speetjens, CEO & Co-founder ShipShape Urban Farms.

Calling it a "Business in a Box" -- Speetjens gave us a tour. Inside the container garden was several varieties of lettuce in various stages of growth.

"Inside here right now it's a balmy 70 degrees and it's this temperature whether it's 100 degrees outside or 30 degrees," said Speetjens.

Every variable is controlled by a computer system.

"This here is I would say the brain of the container... This is actually the control," said Carlos Augusto, VP of Manufacturing ShipShape Urban Farms.

From the temperature, PH levels, lighting, and right amount of water -- Augusto manages the day to day operations using hydroponic technology.

They're able to recycle the water - using only 10% of what a traditional farm uses and cutting down the growth time from 12 weeks to five weeks. The process all starts with employees planting seeds into individuals cells.

While they're seeding each cell by hand -- machines will eventually take over the process. The seedlings are then placed into the nursery section of the container.

Each container is designed for one person to work about 15 to 20 hours a week. The containers producing 1,200 heads of lettuce weekly.

"So one of the steps we did to help is to make more efficient. We developed these lids and all the farmer needs to do to harvest is to pull the lid out and they harvest all the lettuce at once," Augusto demonstrated.

Each container costs $95,000 and upward. Debuting their prototype in New Orleans at the Louisiana Restaurant Association Expo in August -- ShipShape Urban Farms generated a lot of interest.

"Over 3,000 people walked through garden close to 300 to 400 people say they were interested in becoming a ShipShape Urban farmer," said Speetjens. "Eventually we'd like to create a network of urban farmers where all of us work together to produce food for our local communities.

Because it's all done on computer and backed up every 15 minutes on a server -- ShipShape can monitor every stage of growth and share success stories with other farmers. There's also an app that allows the farmers to control settings from their phones.

"We will be able to monitor all the urban farms through the computer system -- not only to assist them, but if we have a container that is producing more than average -- we can contact that farmer and share their experience with other farmers," explained Augusto.

The company hopes to build about 850 over the next five years. They currently have 40 pending orders and say while their focus is on the southern region of the U.S. -- they've had interest from as far away as the Galapagos Islands, India, Canada, and South America.

All content © 2019, WALA; Mobile, AL. (A Meredith Corporation Station). All Rights Reserved.  

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