Nestled beside a building on a TAFE campus in Toowoomba is an ugly metal shipping container, but it’s no ordinary storage shed.
Step inside and it’s bursting with greenery.
Packed floor to ceiling with vegetables and herbs like basil, kale, mint and mustard, this state-of-the-art modular farm is changing the future of agriculture, all with the push of a button.
TAFE Queensland school manager Elaine Wallace said the “grow pod” aimed to change students’ perspectives on traditional farming.
“Often when people think about agriculture, they think, ‘Oh, I don’t want to go stand in the sun all day picking vegetables, that’s a bit too dirty for my liking’,” Ms Wallace said.
“This is just one of those technologies that really enables students to get involved in something different and something up and coming.”
Student Kallia Stebbins said when she first saw the vertical farm she was amazed by the technology.
“Now that I’ve seen this, it’s very cool. I’m very interested to learn more about it.”
A farm controlled from the palm of a hand
The container farm is controlled remotely with an app.
To switch the lights on inside, Ms Wallace simply whips out her phone.
“If we have a look at our monitors, it tells us that our irrigation cycle has started up, so we can set the cycle to however long or short we need it,” she said.
“It’s drip irrigation from the top filter through to the bottom and it’s caught in the gutter that is at the bottom.
“We have pumps that will feed nutrients into the water and then, of course, we’ve got our lights, which are LED lights, and they are also set on a timer, so they are grow lights.”
‘Absolutely no limits’
It’s not just agricultural students reaping the benefits of the multidisciplinary project.
Information technology students studied the app controlling the farm, while electrical students looked at how the farm kept running.
Hospitality and cookery teacher Nev Siebenhausen said his students also gained valuable first-hand experience in paddock to plate catering.
“For our students, it’s a great opportunity to obviously shorten up the duration and travel on the product,” he said.
Mr Siebenhausen said the walk up the hill from the grow pod to the hospitality school reduced carbon miles and cut waste by 70 per cent for produce like basil, which had a short lifespan.
Any leftover produce is donated to the food relief charity, Oz Harvest.
Talks are also underway to trial sensory herbs for community service students to study the calming effects on people.
“The possibilities are endless,” Ms Wallace said.