Hydroponic Farm Started by Detroit’s Cass Community Social Services and Dearborn’s Ford Motor Co. Fund

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Cass Community Social Services, a Detroit nonprofit offering food, housing, health services, and job training, and Ford Motor Co. Fund in Dearborn, Ford’s philanthropic arm, has unveiled the second piece of its Ford Mobile Farm project collaboration – the Ford Freight Farm, a 40-foot shipping container that grows food hydroponically.

The Ford Freight Farm is located in a shipping bay at Cass Community’s headquarters. The space also includes a teaching area for school classes, volunteers, and others.

The freight container is equipped with LED lighting and operates without the use of pesticides, sunlight, or soil. It uses 90 percent less water than crops grown conventionally. Hundreds of towers inside the container house produce that is fed by water infused with nutrients. The container has the growing capacity of two acres and will produce up to 52 harvests per year. The unit will be partially solar-powered.

“This is urban gardening at its best because we can grow in every season of the year,” says Faith Fowler, executive director of Cass Community. “And it delivers fresh produce, farm-to-table in half an hour.”

Cass Community is growing lettuce, greens, and herbs that will be used in its community kitchen, which serves more than 700,000 meals each year. The growth cycle for the current plant varieties is about four-five weeks from seeds to mature plants. Harvests will be staggered so new plants can continually be started.

The Ford Freight Farm will also provide some part-time employment opportunities for adults with developmental disabilities. Produce will be sold to area restaurants beginning in 2019.

The Ford Mobile Farm project was introduced in March 2018 as a F-150 pickup truck with a garden bed and glass, geometric cover that visits local schools to teach healthy eating habits and provide hands-on learning opportunities. The program runs in the spring and fall.

“The Ford Mobile Farm project is a product of young people at Ford applying new solutions to one of the oldest and most systemic challenges in society – the issue of food insecurity,” says Jim Vella, president of Ford Motor Co. Fund. “We are proud to expand our partnership with Cass Community Social Services with such an exciting and innovative project and look forward to the positive impact the Ford Mobile Farm will have within the community for generations to come.”

The Ford Mobile Farm was thought up by Ford employees who participated in the company’s 2017 Thirty Under 30 program. This year’s team was asked to improve Ford Mobile Food Pantries.

The project received $250,000 in funding from the Bill Ford Better World Challenge, a grant program funded by Ford Motor Co. and Bill Ford. The grant supported the purchase and outfitting of the freight farm, the hiring of a person to oversee it, the educational arm of the program, and the preparation of an F-150 for school visits.

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