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MCC receives Omaha’s first ‘Freight Farm’
Urban container garden offers community-focused continuum of educational programming
OMAHA, Neb. (June 24, 2022)
—Metropolitan Community College received a 320-square-foot, indoor container garden that can produce more than two acres of food over the course of a year in a climate-controlled setting using renewable energy. The LED-powered “Freight Farm” is a revolutionary vertical crop growing system that will be the “centerpiece” of MCC programming at its new Yates Illuminates satellite location. Hoisted by a crane, it was placed in the courtyard of the collaborative nonprofit community center with a focus on educational programming near 32nd
and Davenport streets.
It is the first Freight Farm in Omaha and the only one in Nebraska with formalized academic programs attached to it. The hands-on curriculum offered at the Freight Farm is designed with the surrounding, highly diverse Gifford Park neighborhood in mind.
“When fully up and running later this summer, the MCC Freight Farm will be a solar-powered source of immersive learning with a focus on programs that promote diversity, equity and inclusion,” said Gary Girard, MCC associate vice president for Community and Workforce Education.
The converted shipping container can grow more than 500 varieties of crops year-round in a nontraditional learning setting. According to the manufacturer, the hydroponic system can support more than 13,000 growing plants at one time using just five gallons of water per day. Over the course of a year, that can amount to an annual harvest of between two to six tons produce — lettuces, leafy greens, herbs, root vegetables and more.
“We are excited to welcome MCC to our worldwide network of Freight Farmers and to see the impact their Freight Farm will have on students and the Omaha Community as a whole. Educating future generations about sustainability solutions like our hydroponic farming technology is increasingly important is solving a myriad of food supply and environmental issues. We commend MCC for being a pioneer in this effort,” said Rick Ventura, CEO of Freight Farms.
Yates Illuminates is a nonprofit-oriented collaborative partnership committed to delivering adult education and employment services. Girard said the College’s on-site freight farm will create a wide variety of learning opportunities across many academic focus areas offered at MCC. It will also help launch new a new certification for sustainability, as well as offer a full continuum of community programs that serve people from age 3 to the aging population. Programs will continue to develop with input from residents of the Gifford Park neighborhood and beyond.
“Our freight farm will showcase alternative and local growing solutions that are self-sustaining and create food sovereignty, which can be an issue an urban settings,” Girard said.
Course content will have application for students studying business, culinary arts, health, horticulture, science, sustainability, technology and more. Girard said in addition to the valuable educational opportunities offered at the Freight Farm, the educational model is also responsive to issues caused by the pandemic, such as supply chain disruptions and hoarding.
“We’ll look at alternative ways of growing, the science of growing and food equity — all the ways we can use this location to serve under-resourced folks in the community,” Girard said.
Girard explained that determining how the Freight Farm will be implemented at MCC has relied on strong collaboration within the College’s culinary and horticulture programs. Brian O’Malley, associate dean of MCC Culinary, Hospitality and Horticulture, said these programs are natural partners. Girard said their faculty functions as academic consultants for developing curriculum at the Freight Farm.
“Our culinary and horticulture programs have been highly involved in MCC sustainability initiatives, so it was a natural progression for these programs to be involved,” O’Malley said. “We are excited for the opportunity to have this innovative growing system as part of our programs and the potential it brings for community education and impact.”
Classes will begin being offered later this summer, with courses on organic farming, sustainable agriculture, farming technology, the consequences of food deserts, supply and demand and plant care already scheduled.
Girard said one of the key benefits of the addition to the College’s footprint at Yates Illuminates is how the Freight Farm builds on existing programs at MCC. For example, at MCC North Express, a satellite location in the Highlander Building on 30th
Street in North Omaha, visual lessons on climate change are projected on the large Science on a Sphere globe display that hangs from the ceiling. Those global learning experiences can then be applied through local applications and lessons at Yates Illuminates’ Freight Farm by teaching students and the broader community how to grow food from alternative sources, using renewable energy, etc.
“The Freight Farm really can intersect with almost every academic focus area that we have on campus, from farm-to-table dining as part of our culinary program to the technology running the freight farm you would learn about in our IT programs — you can manage the entire farm from an app on your phone,” Girard said.
Like all aspects of Yates Illuminates, the Freight Farm will be community-driven and collaborative. Girard said MCC will look for opportunities to connect with other schools and engage students. For example, synergy can develop from MCC student workers connecting with students participating in youth programs at Yates Illuminates.
“Just like our food chain, we want everything that happens at Yates Illuminates to be interconnected. We hope to take student engagement to a whole new level and use the Freight Farm as a tool to bring people together,” Girard said.
Metropolitan Community College, accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, is a comprehensive, public community college that offers affordable, quality education to all residents of Dodge, Douglas, Sarpy and Washington counties. Founded in 1974, MCC has the largest enrollment out of six community colleges in Nebraska and is the second largest postsecondary institution in the state. MCC serves more than 40,000 unique credit and noncredit students.