Cadets Create Indoor Farm Inside Shipping Containers

From the confined space of a shipping container, military college cadets grow and harvest hundreds of heads of lettuce per week for staff and students.

| February/March 2019

Photo by The Citadel

Inside three shipping containers on the campus of The Citadel, a military college in South Carolina, cadets are learning how to grow lettuce crops in a controlled indoor “farm” setting, producing organic produce in an environment that can withstand unpredictable weather conditions and disease. The cadets’ hands-on education comes from The Citadel Sustainability Project, in which the first shipping container functions as a hydroponic cultivation system for lettuce crops, the second container is a testing ground for various growing systems, and the third container will be outfitted by cadets who design and build the growing equipment as part of a corresponding independent study.

The Citadel STEM Center of Excellence initiated the project in 2016 as an interdisciplinary collaboration. Of the 20 or so students who are members of the Sustainability Club, several are STEM Scholars. We also have electrical engineers who are completing a design project on hydroponics. We’ve had students from almost every campus department — engineering, biology, business — who have worked with the project.

Prior to their graduation, Alex Richardson, who studied engineering, and Cameron Brown, who studied business, managed the growing container with the help of other students motivated by a passion for the environment.

“Cadets are excited about The Citadel Sustainability Project because it incorporates biology, chemistry, computer science, business, engineering, and community outreach. It gives us the opportunity to collaborate with students outside of our own programs on a project focused on global population needs,” Richardson says. “And seeing people on campus eat and enjoy our crops is gratifying.”

A Sustainable Food Source

We’re currently growing more than 4,400 plants in the shipping containers, including collards, lettuce, spinach, and herbs. The nutrients used to grow the crops are recycled within the system’s 100-gallon reservoir and are managed through a smartphone application. The app tracks the metallic minerals in the water and sends nutrients to the plants every 10 minutes. It also displays the water’s temperature and the container’s carbon dioxide and pH levels.


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