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Is Patrick Stoffer the cultivator of the future?

Clean hands and a smartphone

He did not go to horticultural college, does not really have a green thumb, and has no plans of ever taking a trip to an auction or a cultivator’s association. Yet Patrick Stoffer will have about 1,000 heads of lettuce every week from today. These are eaten by residents of the Humanitas home in Deventer, the Netherlands, which is also the place of his container nursery. Is this the cultivation of the future?

Container cultivation
Stoffer is the first European container cultivator. He bought the Leafy Green Machine from Horticoop. This cultivation system has been developed by the American company Freight Farms and comprises of a cargo container (12.2 x 2.44 x 2.6m) that has 256 cultivation towers for the hydroponic cultivation of leafy crops or herbs. By using an app you will be kept up-to-date on the conditions in the container, and you will receive tips about what has to happen during cultivation. Because of that, the system is considerably vandal-proof. One container equals 7,000m2 of soil, and the model is already in great demand in the US. About 150 have been installed there by now, and popularity is steadily growing. For example, Kimbal Musk, brother of Paypal and Tesla founder Elon Musk, recently bought 20 to start his own vertical farm. In his blog, whose target audience is millennials, he explains the importance of cultivating on locations and being in contact with the final customer. 

Leafy Green Machine
The manner in which Stoffers furnishes his company also has nothing to do with the nurseries as we know them. He has no knowledge of the traditional fresh produce trade, and did not attend horticultural college, but is studying facility management and uses his entrepreneurship with the Leafy Green Machine in his final project. What he does have, is the Leafy Green Machine and a local buyer. The cultivation container will be placed near residential care centre Humanitas in Deventer, where Stoffer is already living among the elderly as a residential student. “Part of the lettuce ends up in the salad bar at the home,” the young entrepreneur explains. “The idea is to also involve residents in the project, to show how the lettuce grows and what happens in the container. At a later time, the ambition will be to employ someone with a distance to the labour market. That is how it will become a part of the community here and a social project.”

Cost price
Stoffer finds other buyers in local restaurants. “Salad bars, catering establishments. They can place the cultivation trough with the lettuce products in the restaurants, and harvest fresh lettuce on the spot,” says Stoffer. He needs companies which see the added value of this, because the cost price of the Leafy Green Machine means he cannot compete with traditional greenhouse horticulture. “It is not competitive with a supermarket. The story is part of the sales experience. It is almost impossible to find fresher and healthier product.”
The container came off the boat this week, and was placed at the Insperience Day at Horticoop. The company has had the Leafy Green Machine in its assortment for a few months now. Interest has already been expressed from countries such as Norway, Sweden and the UK. Freight Farms expects sales will increase in the US next year, and also hopes to find a good market in Europe.
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