FOLEY - CEO of Shipshape Urban Farms Dale Speetjens spoke at South Baldwin Chamber’s May 21 Leadership Series, giving the attendees a first-hand look into the future of agriculture. The crops at …
FOLEY - CEO of Shipshape Urban Farms Dale Speetjens spoke at South Baldwin Chamber’s May 21 Leadership Series, giving the attendees a first-hand look into the future of agriculture. The crops at Shipshape Urban Farms are produced hydroponically in repurposed shipping containers, greenhouses, and seasonal planting beds, and will soon be located in downtown Mobile and provide lettuce and leafy greens throughout Mobile and Baldwin Counties.
“We do this because worldwide we have a problem. It’s crazy that you can buy a hamburger for 99 cents and a salad costs five dollars,” said Speetjens. “This all relates to food miles, the distance your food has to travel before it gets to your plate. The average American dinner travels about 1,500 miles, and salads travel 2,500 miles as they’re coming from the Imperial Valley in California.”
Speetjens states these distances create food waste, making up a third of everything Americans eat, which leads to “food deserts,” or places where people don’t have access to fresh, healthy food near their home. Speetjens’ company wants to bring farms back to the city, a practice many people are beginning to follow throughout the nation. Alternative forms of agriculture have been followed throughout history, and Shipshape Urban Farms is following in the footsteps of forward thinkers of the past.
“Once you provide a structure plan, the water, the nutrients, and light, then you have the proper components and you no longer need soil,” Speetjens said. “We’re artificially giving the nutrients that are needed for the plants through water.”
After more than a year of testing and redesigning, Shipshape Urban Farm’s test farm in Irvington is producing pristine lettuce as well as other leafy greens, all in a container that takes the equivalent of a 3,500 square foot farm and condensing it into a 320 square foot space. The company provides the lighting, nutrients, water, and air control needed for growing crops and producing it within the shipping container. A quarter acre lot in Mobile has been purchased and will be turned into the equivalent of a 30-acre farm with the technology. Several local restaurants purchase the lettuce and greens from Shipshape Urban Farms, and it is sold at Fairhope Greer’s and Fly Away Farms in Orange Beach.
“To grow a head of lettuce in our system is significantly cheaper than growing it traditionally,” Speetjens said. “One of the biggest factors is using a lot less waste. We use ten percent of the water of traditional farming, and we use an app that is driven by the computer in the system, so we know when a plant is running low on a nutrient, we know what’s going on with every single plant within the system.”
No chemicals or pesticides are used within Shipshape Urban Farms, and there are no seasonal restraints involved with this technology. Speetjens says the system will produce the same in Mobile as it would in Antarctica or the desert as the entire environment within the container is controlled. Shipshape Urban Farm is currently looking into ways to reduce water even more by testing ways to capture water from the local atmosphere, as well as using solar energy to power the system.
Even with these advancements in place, Speetjens sees even more being made in the future, both nationally and internationally.
“I fought over in Iraq at the beginning of the war, and the quickest way to kill an army is through their stomach,” Speetjens said. “That’s exactly what nearly happened to us, when our supply lines were attacked. You had bases full of soldiers eating nothing but MREs every single day. Imagine utilizing our environmentally controlled farms, bringing them in for these soldiers and being able to feed them fresh, healthy food every single week. That’s what this technology can do for them, and then at the end of the engagement it can be turned back over to the local population, it can be a national building tool.”
To learn more about Shipshape Urban Farms, check out their website at www.shipshapeurbanfarms.com.