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In An Airstream Trailer, A Vertical Farm Will Travel The Country Delivering Kale And Education

It’ll start at Burning Man, of course.

Vertical farms might be becoming a bit more common, but most people don’t know how they work, and even fewer have seen one in real life. So this summer, a team of entrepreneurs plans to buy an Airstream trailer, turn it into a mobile farm, and start driving it around the country to show people what a high-tech indoor farm looks like in person.

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“We’ll have kale, cucumbers, tomatoes, in this transparent dome,” says Ryan Hooks, one of the creators of Isabel. “People can come see it, get free salad, and they can ask us any questions. We can tell them this uses 95% less water than conventional farming, it’s two times faster, it doesn’t use pesticides.”

After years of working as a director on projects like food documentaries and for organizations like UNICEF, Hooks wanted to take action himself. “I was becoming more and more concerned over time that these solutions that are available aren’t being deployed as fast as they should,” he says.

He decided to quit his career of freelance work for the ad industry and focus on something positive. After moving from New York to water-starved San Francisco a few months ago, he decided to work on a project related to water. Hyper-efficient vertical farming, he realized, could help in places prone to drought. So he partnered with vertical farmer Eric Hager and designer Ruben Santa to build a demo of the technology.

They plan to debut the mobile farm, called Isabel, at Burning Man. “I think of Burning Man as the modern version of the world’s fair,” Hooks says. “You have Google, Facebook, Elon Musk out there, and investors. It’s where all the innovators go to play. I know that people will be inspired by Isabel, and the message can disseminate from there.”

After the festival, the team plans to take Isabel on the road to universities and companies. Ultimately, they hope to make a version of a modular vertical farm that’s more affordable and more productive than what’s currently on the market, and start to install it in as many places as possible.

“We’d like to collaborate with someone like Ikea,” he says. “If Ikea can sell vertical farming systems, it would make it so affordable that more and more people can use it, and become more and more efficient.”

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The designers are raising money to build the mobile farm on Indiegogo.

About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.

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