SPIN in a Box

Courtesy of James K. , Virtually Green, San Francisco, CA

Over the past few years I’ve done a number of consulting projects for innovative hydroponic systems startups. Hydroponic farming is a high-tech system, high startup cost, high operations and maintenance costs, high energy (even with LED) costs, high skills required, high-risk venture … etcetera. It’s not for the faint of heart or anyone without deep pockets. This one is no different, and in fact appears higher risk than most. It is a high-cost unit with limited volume yields relative to higher footrprint hydroponics operations that only succeed (if they do at all) because they can amortize fairly fixed considerable startup and O&M costs over a high volume of produce yields spread across acres of production. I’d say the odds of freightfarms succeeding are slim to none.

As for SPIN being applicable, I’d say that the post-harvest processing, packaging, pricing and marketing aspects of SPIN, could be applied. I don’t see the transformation of people’s front lawns into container farms. Butt ugly. Neighbors would freak. 🙂 Parking lots on the other hand, maybe, but even there ugly doesn’t play well with the commercial neighbors: you’d have to build a pretty shell around the containers at the very least, which is another big cost.

On the other hand, the concept of a shipping container standard system core for a small farm operation is actually intriguing. Imagine a walk-in cooler, post-harvest processing, and value-add processing (say basil to pesto, or tomatoes-chilies to salsa) unit in a shipping container. Sweet. Drop it in a driveway or backyard. Do perennial trellises and pretty canopies the heck out of it and maybe the neighbors would be OK with it. Maybe.

Lots of ideas out there for new ways to do farming. Most of them bad. Skepticism is a good default perspective for this stuff.