Innovation of the Week: PodPonics—Thinking Globally, Growing Locally

About the Authors

Jameson Spivack is a former Worldwatch Food and Agriculture Research Intern.

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PodPonics converts used shipping containers and into modular controlled-environment growth pods

PodPonics, an indoor urban agriculture project that grows lettuce in PVC pipes inside used shipping containers, is just one of a new crop of up-and-coming urban agricultural innovators. The U.S. company, created by Dan Backhaus and Mark Liotta, currently operates a collection of six “pods,” or containers, in downtown Atlanta, Georgia, and is in the process of developing a plot of land next to the Atlanta International Airport.

According to Backhaus and Liotta, growing the produce in shipping containers has many advantages. The size and scale of the containers makes it easy to standardize the light, temperature, and watering of the plants. For this reason, the PodPonics model is applicable to many different locales and situations. Backhaus and Liotta call this the “local everywhere” approach—emphasizing local production and consumption while maintaining a global focus.

PodPonics minimizes harmful outputs and enables urban residents to grow fresh, nutritious foods locally. (Photo Credit: PodPonics)

Part of this global focus includes a strong dedication to environmental responsibility. Standardizing inputs allows PodPonics to conserve resources that typically are wasted in large-scale production. The closed environment of the pods prevents fertilizer runoff and allows for the recycling of water and nutrients. The pods also use energy during off-peak hours, which utilizes leftover energy in the system, helping to stabilize the city’s energy grid.

The company is focused on ethical and environmental concerns—it aims for a “triple-bottom line” of people, planet, and profit. Although community is the priority, expansion and growth are still vital to the company’s success. Backhaus and Liotta are currently in talks with producers in Germany and the United Arab Emirates who are interested in adopting the PodPonics model in their own communities.

At a time when the planet’s resources are becoming increasingly strained and urban agriculture is becoming more necessary, PodPonics offers a model that is local in focus but global in scope. By minimizing harmful outputs and enabling urban residents to grow fresh, nutritious foods locally, models like PodPonics are truly sustainable approaches to agriculture.