In downtown Holyoke, college students and community farmers are working side-by-side to grow produce inside two 40-foot shipping containers that are fully outfitted with hydroponic farming technology. The project – Freight Farms – is a joint venture between the city, the Holyoke Redevelopment Authority, Holyoke Community College (HCC), and the grassroots urban agriculture organization Nuestras Raíces. In addition to providing students with essential skills in farming, business planning, and sustainability, Freight Farms is empowering locals to grow fresh produce year-round for consumption in the community, while serving to improve and expand the market for indoor agriculture – a critical strategy for the return of many vacant industrial buildings to productive economic use.
Through the Transformative Development Initiative (TDI) and the work of TDI Fellow Insiyah Mohammed Bergeron, Holyoke is positioning itself as a hub for controlled-environment agriculture and an ecosystem that supports entrepreneurship and small business development. Backed by a $208,000 TDI Equity investment and year-one operations supported by the city and HCC, Freight Farms has reached new milestones:
- The project team has grown to include a farm manager and three college interns. In addition to HCC students, the partnership this year will onboard and train 11 farmers, all Holyoke residents, in the basics of hydroponic farming.
- A recent week’s harvest included 300 heads of lettuce!
- The first bulk sale was made to Gateway City Arts, a venue for events, entertainment, dining, and more in Holyoke’s growing Innovation District.
- A portion of every harvest is donated to Holyoke Community College’s food pantry.