A Feasibility Study of Hydroponic Shipping Container Farms in Businesses and Schools: Identifying the Influential Factors, Benefits, and Challenges
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Agriculture is one of the largest and most profitable industries in the United States. It generated $992 billion in 2015 (Glaser, 2016). However, studies have identified that the agriculture sector has become increasingly more difficult for farmers to enter (Reid, 2013). Additionally, concern over the long-term sustainability of modern agriculture has arisen due to climate change, as well as economic, ecological, and social concerns (Gold, 2001). As a result, sustainable agriculture has become more popular as an alternative to traditional agriculture (Kirschenmann, 2004) and created a niche market for produce grown sustainably. Shipping container farms are one of the most recent agricultural innovations entering the market. This innovative method of production is promoted as efficient, profitable, and sustainable food production that can be utilized almost anywhere year-round (Freight Farms, 2017). However, there is limited data available on this new method of production, and the majority of that data come from hydroponic shipping container farm (HSCF) vendors. In this study the researcher sought to provide objective data on HSCF performance in businesses and schools by conducting a mixed method study. The following research objectives were used to fulfill the purpose of this study: (1) discover the influential factors for selecting a hydroponic system inside of a insulated shipping container for businesses and schools, (2) identify the benefits and challenges of HSCF in business and schools, and (3) describe the experiences of businesses and schools utilizing varying HSCF designs concerning their expectations, use and overall satisfaction. Results for the research indicated that all schools are satisfied by utilizing a HSCF on campus. Specifically, their experience the benefits of traditional school gardens while overcoming typical barriers that result in short term use of the soil-based garden on campus. Business owners of HSCF however, are not totally satisfied by utilizing a HSCF and their experiences varied based on the HSCF manufacturer they selected. Most importantly, the research identified why schools and business are selecting this innovative method of production, the benefits and challenges when utilizing a container farm, and described user experience to provide a real-world picture of HSCF performance in schools and businesses.