A farmer inside Georgia State University’s hydroponic campus farm — which exists inside a high-tech, 320-square-foot shipping container — harvests lettuce. 
Photo: Georgia State University 
Photo: Georgia State University 

An Atlanta college is growing its own food inside a shipping container

Georgia State University students will soon have regular access to organic produce grown right on campus. 

This might sound a little strange, considering the public college is sprawled across the heart of downtown Atlanta — an area not exactly conducive to high-volume farming. 

But that’s where the school’s new hydroponic campus farm — which exists inside a high-tech, 320-square-foot shipping container — comes in. The 40-foot-long box, filled with growing towers, yields more than an acre of production. 

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The unique farm has been a couple years in the making. The school found Boston-based Freight Farms, a company that manufactures the "Leafy Green Machines” shipping containers, in a research effort to make dining operations more sustainable in 2015. 

At a funding meeting that same year, students, staff and faculty unanimously voted to fund the program through a mandatory sustainability fee included in tuition. 

The farm was delivered in July 2016, and the first harvest was ready a month later. Lettuce, leafy greens and herbs from the farm have been occasionally served at events and in campus cafes over the past year, but students can expect ingredients such as wasabi arugula, basil and kale on a regular basis at all dining halls starting this fall. 

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Lenore Musick, executive director of PantherDining and Sustainability Initiatives, described it as the “ultimate farm-to-table experience.”

“Whether reducing waste through our composting system or developing new ways to recycle our kitchen oil, we are constantly seeking opportunities to make a positive impact not only on the environment, but on the Georgia State community,” Musick said in a statement.

The futuristic container is located behind Piedmont North, the residence and dining hall. It uses sensors that measure climate conditions to create optimal growing environments, and has LED strips that mimic sunlight. 

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Atlanta may be more eco-friendly than you thought. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ranked Atlanta No. 4 in the nation. (Erica A. Hernandez/AJC)