The UO Office of Sustainability launched the Grow Pod initiative in 2018. The Grow Pod consists of a shipping container built out for high-productivity food growth that supports ongoing research, learning, and innovation for sustainable urban food production. The Grow Pod was generously donated to the UO Office of Sustainability by a community member and was delivered to campus in May 2018. In 2018, the University of Oregon Food Studies Program and the Office of Sustainability were awarded a $10,000 applied environmental science seed grant to support start-up costs and first year programming in the Pod. The project was officially announced to the University of Oregon community in an April 2019 Around the O article.
The Pod is outfitted for growing plants with a heating and cooling system, insulation, trays and racks, and state-of-the-art LED lighting system. During the first months of the project, we have focused on testing out growing systems and learning how to operate pod. We also conducted a brief study of the emerging industry of controlled environment agriculture. As part of this study, we collected case studies of existing container farm inititiaves and a bibliography of relevant academic studies and contemporary news articles. The bibliography also includes a list of shipping container consulting firms, equipment companies, university initiatives, and social enterprise efforts.
Currently, the Grow Pod supports students through introductory-level curricular and co-curricular programming. In year one, students in UO Community for Environmental Leaders are raising a variety of common garden crops as well as starts they plan to market to the campus community. In this pilot year, the Grow Pod is already being used to foster undergraduate student research and to engage and educate interested students in the Environmental Leaders Academic Residential Community (ARC).
In recent years, a new industry has emerged to build, operate, and sell shipping containers that have been outfitted for indoor growing. Current uses range from commercial operations for niche markets such as high-end restaurants, to add-ons to existing agricultural businesses, to social enterprises that provide food production options in areas where land-based farming is not feasible. These types of facilities are compelling from a research perspective, and they are likely to be commercially successful. Now is the time to study and shape their future by developing socially beneficial use cases, designing to reduce cost, fitting to planning codes and urban and sub-urban aesthetics, conducting critical comparisons to conventional farming, analyzing costs and opportunities related to energy, water, fertilizer, pesticides, labor, productivity, nutrition, and soil quality.
On April 19, 2019, the University of Oregon Food Studies Program hosted a lunchtime talk with Office of Sustainability Director Steve Mital and Graduate Employee Briana Meier. We shared an introduction to the indoor agriculture industry and a tour of the Grow Pod with attendees. Our presentation, The Grow Pod Lab: An Indoor Agriculture Experiement, is available in the slideshow below.
For more information about the Grow Pod, contact Briana Meier at firstname.lastname@example.org.