How a recycled shipping container is becoming a modern educational tool
It may look like a plain, white shipping container was just parked on the backyard grounds of Mountain Vista High School. The contents of the container are anything but plain, though.
“This container has crossed back and forth across the Pacific hundreds of times before finding its way here,” said David Larsen, who teaches engineering and helps to manage the STEM, Gifted, and MTSS programs at Mountain Vista.
Walking inside the container, different colors of ambient lighting glow, futuristic-looking equipment and tall towers are suspended from the ceiling, and the humidity level is set to 70 percent. The container has been recycled into a new kind of learning opportunity for students.
This is a freight farm, and in just a few weeks it will be housing more than 7,200 crops of lettuce and herbs, and harvesting 80-100 lbs of produce per week year round.
“The farm is 320 square feet and the yield is the equivalent to two acres. It uses ten gallons of water per day, just a tiny fraction of what you would need for two acres of traditional farming,” said Larsen, who was responsible for bringing the freight farm program to Vista and is overseeing implementation and connections to instructional opportunities in the school. He is also helping establish two additional freight farms for schools in neighboring school districts.
The program enables students in several different classes to study how the farm works, from the environmental conditions inside the container and nutrients infused into the water system, to the sprouts that emerge, to the transplanting into seven foot tall, foam-packed towers, to the sale and distribution of the crops to the community. Students in a Freight Farm Club and from Vista’s AP environmental class, as well as accounting, marketing, design, and computer science students will all gain a unique perspective of instruction on the farm. For example, computer science students are working on data collection and analyzing climate conditions and nutrient levels as part of a database development project.
“In another class we’re trying to go for a grant to create a one-acre community garden, and bring the process all the way around. That will help us with the plants that are more viney or weigh too much for the towers,” said Rose Linville, a Vista senior who is one of the enthusiastic students actively involved in helping manage the freight farm.
Larsen wrote the grant application for the three freight farms (the other two are located at Warren Tech in Jefferson County and STEM Launch in Adams 12). He has been working on bringing the freight farm to Vista since last November, finally gaining occupancy in September, and now piece by piece he’s turning it over as much as possible to the kids. Their next task: determining how to sell the crops, profits from which will benefit the school.
“I purchased several organic, non-GMO produce items from King Soopers and displayed them along with their prices for the freight farm club kids. We’ll have to figure out what price point we can charge, how we can get delivery, all of those things will need to be solved,” Larsen said.
In the meantime, Rose and the other students studying the farm are encouraged to experiment, and are also gaining inspiration to engineer their own farming towers made of PVC piping and other materials.
Larsen noted, “there’s a lot of opportunity to re-engineer stuff in here, and we may even eventually get to design our own version of this in the future. We are very thankful for the support of the district and the Operations and Maintenance Department for partnering with us get up and running on this new project.”