The Ritz-Carlton in Naples, Florida has latched onto the next evolution of efficient farming. With the demand for local and organic produce growing each quarter, companies everywhere are looking for the most cost-effective method to deliver high-quality food onto plates. Enter Williamson Greenhouse’s “CropBox”.
North Carolina-based Williamson Greenhouses invented the CropBox to offer affordable, efficient farming methods. Their immediate goal was to create a tool that would enable anyone to become a successful farmer, regardless of their talent or expertise. “We have customers across all markets,” explains Tripp Williamson, principle owner, “from companies like the Ritz to individuals that have never grown anything and are starting a business for the first time. Our big goal is to be able to help third world countries and to help provide food to those who need it most. That is the last piece of the puzzle.”
The box is made to the dimensions and appearance of a standard 44 by 8 feet shipping container. Within its petite 320ft2, however, it contains the extraordinary agricultural capacity of an entire 1 acre farm. Its setup time, from being ordered to being delivered, is just 30 days. It maintains the perfect pH, humidity, lighting, and nutrient release for whatever crops it houses. All of these settings are tweakable, managed within a smartphone app.
This is a nascent field and the Ritz-Carlton Naples is at the forefront. Dubbed by the Ritz-Carlton’s staff as “The Grow House,” it is the first of its kind in a resort. The trend is certainly picking up steam, however. While there were just 13 in the United States in September, 2015, when The Ritz’s was set up, there were 24 by the end of December.
It’s easy to see why: the benefits to the restaurant are manifold. With a farm on the property, the restaurant is supplied with ingredients that are as fresh as commercially possible. When an ingredient in the kitchen runs low, Executive Chef George Fistrovich or one of his cooks runs out back and picks more from their CropBox. “There’s no middleman here,” he says, “we are always going to have fresh greens to use. We grow it, we harvest it and we serve it. You can’t get any more local than that.” It reduces the need for stockpiling, which in turn reduces waste.
Already, with just the one CropBox, 70-80% of the resort’s lettuce is self-supplied. The Ritz’s CropBox also supplies the resort with cilantro, arugula, spinach, cabbage, and assorted microgreens. Chef Fistrovich hopes to add another CropBox to produce mushrooms and strawberries next. With enough variety, the Ritz’s kitchens will be able to offer any dish as “local” or “seasonal” at any time.
The benefits of the CropBox spread much farther afield than just the resort’s kitchen, however. Due to the closed-off nature of the shipping container, every product the CropBox grows is organic and 100% pesticide-free. Additionally, they grow with startling efficiency: to grow 30,000 heads of lettuce, the CropBox uses 90% less water and 80% less fertilizer than a standard 1 acre farm. They also all-but-eliminates the carbon footprint and waste that stems from transporting food from farm to table. Most produce grown on conventional farms travel approximately 1,000 miles before they get to market, and this transportation cost accounts for over 40% of the goods’ sales price. Growing produce in a CropBox reduces the oil needed by 90%, and all-but-eliminates the issue of produce rotting before arriving at the market.
These efficiencies could be harnessed across the world – from inhospitable climates, to urban centres – to affordably combat world hunger and climate change. Crop Boxes can directly and immediately improve our standard of living. Williamson said that there has been interest from every continent except Antarctica. “By the year 2050 the world population will increase by 50%. We will need to produce more food and become way more efficient at growing it. With all the environmental changes happening we saw an opportunity to get involved with vertical growing to help offset the environmental impact.” This is a problem that’s not going away any time soon, but the CropBox may be a part of the solution.