Freight Farms Lands $7.3M as Agriculture Meets Data & Automation

Investors have planted $7.3 million in Freight Farms to help the Boston-based startup bring its micro-farms to more places around the globe—and potentially even beyond.

The investors in the Series B round include return backer Spark Capital, also based in Boston. The news was first reported by the Wall Street Journal on Monday. Freight Farms’ total venture capital haul now exceeds $12 million, according to SEC filings.

The company sells shipping containers filled with hydroponic farming systems that can grow a variety of lettuces, herbs, and other greens. The system is designed to operate with minimal hands-on work by humans. It employs LED lights and automated watering and fertilizing technology. Operators can monitor the farm through a live camera feed, and they can use an app to control the climate within the shipping container and shop for growing supplies. The company has said the system uses less water than traditional farming methods, and because it’s housed inside a shipping container, it doesn’t require pesticides or herbicides.

Freight Farms has deployed more than 100 of these farming systems across the U.S. and in several countries. Customers include urban farmers, traditional farms, produce distributors, and universities.

The startup was formed in 2010 by Brad McNamara and Jon Friedman, who previously worked on rooftop hydroponic gardens.

Freight Farms is trying to take advantage of the growing interest in local food sourcing, as its shipping containers can be set up close to where food gets sold or consumed. It also aims to enable year-round food production in challenging locales—think the snowy mountains of Colorado, or even space. Freight Farms and Clemson University are working on a NASA-funded project exploring ways to grow food in harsh climates and, potentially, deep space.

Freight Farms also fits with trends in agriculture around automation and using digital tools. That’s a key reason why Spark made another investment.

“Modular, Internet-connected, and highly automated commercial farms will play an important role in bringing local and affordable produce to communities all over the world,” Spark’s Todd Dagres and John Melas-Kyriazi wrote in a blog post about the new investment. “Value will accrue to those who own the technology layer of this farming stack (hardware + software) as data and automation become increasingly important drivers of low-cost production.”

Agricultural technology companies are taking various approaches to indoor farming. Like Freight Farms, Atlanta-based PodPonics sells tech-enabled mini-farms inside shipping containers. Businesses such as New York-based BrightFarms and Harrisonburg, VA-based Shenandoah Growers produce food inside greenhouses. And startups like Grove and SproutsIO, two Boston-area firms, sell micro-farming systems to consumers for growing food inside their homes.

Jeff Engel is a senior editor at Xconomy. Email: jengel@xconomy.com Follow @JeffEngelXcon

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