What is the Farm on Wheels Project?

The Farm on Wheels project is designed to bring modular, scalable, and user-friendly agricultural technologies to schools and communities, providing hands-on training and learning resources for teachers and students.

We've chosen a 40 foot shipping container, which will be converted into two parts: a high-intensity indoor farm and hands-on training centre. The indoor farm will use innovative technology to grow a variety of edible plants that will be used in our training exercises and delivered to schools.  The training area will support hands-on workshops and labs, teaching skills that include seed germination and transplantation, farm maintenance and operation and food handing and packaging.   

The Farm on Wheels will then be parked at various schools around Edmonton so that teachers and students can directly experience food production and incorporate topics of urban agriculture and food safety and nutrition into class projects and school initiatives.

The most exciting part of the Farm on Wheels project is the vertical growing technology we use.  Called grow towers, this technology works perfectly as a standalone instructional tool in classrooms:  they can be set up in a fixed location or mobile, they fit through doors, require very little floor space, and the fluorescent lights are easy to keep out of the way or move around. 

When a teacher or student group is ready to scale up from a standalone unit, the vertical towers stack horizontally on walls or racks to create living walls. All the knowledge and skills needed to support a single unit intuitively scale up for larger installations.

We want to showcase a strategic approach towards integrating urban agriculture into communities that can have a meaningful impact on food insecurity in Edmonton.

And so the Farm on Wheels was born!




Goals

Some of our goals for the Farm on Wheels project:
  • Train teachers to quickly and easily integrate indoor agriculture into a class project or school initiative
  • Produce locally grown food for children and show them how to grow their own food
  • Develop an outreach program that provides an opportunity for individuals and families to gain access to the services provided by the Farm on Wheels
  • Launch a Farm on Wheels master course where schools and communities can learn how to build their own indoor or outdoor farm
  • Begin a nation-wide research program that improves the adoption of urban agriculture at the residential and community level, especially in primary and secondary schools



 Why do we need a farm on wheels?

When we talked with teachers about starting an agriculture project, they indicated some of the following challenges:
  • Lack of training and knowledge
  • Little or no budget
  • Limited access to inexpensive teaching resources and products
  • Little on-going support and troubleshooting
  • Lack of appropriate space in the classroom or school

The Farm on Wheels program is really about helping teachers and schools overcome a number of obstacles that hinder them from successfully designing, building, and maintaining an indoor or outdoor agriculture project.

Given our winter city location, we also thought it was important to extend both the growing season and the time available to deliver training. With an indoor facility, we are not limited by external environmental factors, and can be open year-round!

With increasing weather extremes and limited agricultural spaces within large cities, we feel strongly that now is the time to build Edmonton’s food network by increasing the adoption of farming at the residential and community level.

More importantly, the Farm on Wheels program will provide nutritious, locally grown food to schools to help address the serious problem of food insecurity and malnutrition that many students in Edmonton and across Canada live with everyday.

According to PROOF (Research to identify policy options to reduce food insecurity), food insecurity exists in all provinces across Canada.  In Alberta, there are over 150,000 households that suffer from food insecurity. In their most recent report, the Edmonton Social Planning Council indicated that there are over 12,000 food bank visits every month (40% of those are children).

Unfortunately, food insecurity is getting worse, not better.

Providing healthy and nutritious diets to students is challenging, which is why we think that addressing the problem means bringing the technologies and knowledge to schools that don’t have the resources to bring their students to farms or to start a fresh food initiative.

We also believe that fixing our food system means teaching children the science and art of growing plants in all kinds of environments, and so training and guidance on outdoor agriculture will also be provided when the weather permits.


Thumbnail image of video interview

Prairie Urban Farm Interview with Nicole


Project Details

Community Building and Crowdfunding 

Two of the core values of Prairie Urban Farm is that we advocate for reimagining our food system and support community resilience.  A resilient community is able to produce local jobs, local food, local goods, local services, and local social networks even when there are downturns in the global economy.

The Farm on Wheels project is directly addressing food insecurity by supporting small-scale, agricultural initiatives that build local communities and food chains. This project showcases the impact that small-scale farms can have, bringing the real economy back to local communities and recirculating the wealth within the community. Instead of trying to duplicate the agribusiness model at the local level, communities that build assets and provide community ownership can fund, build, and operate small-scale urban farms right where they are needed, indoor or out.

Communities often come together and raise their own funding for projects that matter to them, and food security is one area that we obviously feel strongly about. The Farm on Wheels project could be an asset for schools and communities, providing a tremendous educational experience and delivering locally grown food to the most vulnerable, addressing food insecurity and malnutrition.

The cost of converting a shipping container into an indoor farm and teaching centre and preparing the instructional materials is $100,000, which we intend to raise through crowdfunding and grants. Our campaign launch is on IndieGoGo is March 12, 2016.  

We can’t do this alone, so we will reach out to schools, the business sector and organizations around Alberta to establish and build partnerships. 



Design Considerations

We need to ensure that the farm is capable of supporting plants year-round. There are a number of extreme engineering issues that need to be addressed before growing in a metal container in the middle of an Edmonton winter.

We need to pay special attention to controlling the temperature, humidity, irrigation and lighting in a small, enclosed space, whether the outdoor temperature is -30C or 30C.

We have selected the ZipGrow Farm system to build the infrastructure for our farm. This technology is simple to use, scales from 1 tower to 1000, and produces high-quality, high-value crops that are nutritious and delicious. The ZipFarm system is built to minimize labor and uses adjustable spectrum LED grow lights to reduce wasted light energy and overall energy usage.

We have enough room in the container to support 60 ZipGrow Towers, which means we will be able to grow a significant amount of fresh food in a tight space! Bright Agrotech LLC., the manufacturers of this technology, also has a tremendous online program to train upstart farmers and provides resources that cover many topics related to hydroponic and aquaponic food production. We're really excited about what they've been up to and are eager to showcase how powerful vertical agriculture is.
The construction of the Farm on Wheels will have several phases and is projected to be completed in August of 2016.

Teacher Training

While we are building the Farm on Wheels, we are going to develop the teacher training modules and resources. Not only do teachers need to learn what indoor agriculture is, they need lesson plans, materials, seeds, farm tools, and other resources that will enable them to start their own projects with students.

We want to prepare teachers to start growing food, so we’re taking as much of the guesswork out of the process as we can. We will develop introductory workshops and advanced courses that span the entire food production cycle, each containing hands-on experiences and labs.  Sample teaching modules might include:  plant life-cycle, water quality, designing and building garden systems, food handling and safety, and farm automation. 

Bright Agrotech has already produced a tremendous collection of videos, educational materials, and products for urban farmers and teachers, and we will be sure to work closely with them to develop our teaching modules; learning from their experience with helping hundreds of new and veteran farmers internationally who have launched commercial farms. 

Indoor Farm Training (2nd year)

One of our long-term goals is to teach schools and communities how they can build their own indoor farm, whether it is in a shipping container, an abandoned warehouse, or a new greenhouse. There are a number of alternatives that work great, and we’ll work with communities and organizations to create a farm that meets their unique needs.

We are going to document the entire design and construction stages of the Farm on Wheels and produce a blueprint that will walk people from start to finish in launching their own community-based indoor agriculture project.

Establish a national research network (3rd year)

Once schools begin projects, and eventually as communities build additional farms, we will lead a research program that focuses on urban farming for home owners, schools, communities, sharing data on crops and yields and developing case studies and best practices that community builders, urban planners and school administrators can use.

We will actively seek to include a wide range of perspectives and communities into the network so that we can further understand these complex and important issues.

The team behind the Farm on Wheels project

  • Director - Debra Davison, PhD.
  • Program Manager - Emilio Gagliardi, MSc.
  • Farm Manager - Nicole Martin
  • Design - Kira Hunt
  • Video Design, Audio Design, Graphics - Greg Brightwell

How to get involved

  1. Join our mailing list so that we can contact you and send you updates
  2. Share this page with your network and help us spread the campaign
  3. Support our funding goal by contributing to our campaign (link coming shortly)
  4. Contact us for questions or comments or to volunteer

    Email: prairieurbanfarm@gmail.com
    Phone: 
    780-492-4598
Partners

Eco Evolver - Indoor living walls, FarmWalls, Training, Living Food

Backers
Thank you to all the amazing and generous IndieGoGo Backers that contributed to our campaign. We're so grateful to each one of you.

Mo bot
Susan
Kevin Kaminski
Lois White
Kira Hunt
truongduyen1
Tess Gleason
Jennifer Welchman
healingconnections
Deborah Merriam
Catherine Gutwin
Renee Polziehn
Manon Ruel
David Schmaus
Whitney Caine
Linda Ruiter
Amy Kaler
Wayne Crosby
Kelci Mohr


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