Project 4000:

Shipping container-style greenhouse

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

The volunteers and staff at The Working Centre’s urban community garden know better than most that when everyone chips in, when seeds are planted in the proper conditions, good things are bound to sprout. 

So when The Working Centre faced the problem of growing seedlings and microgreens more efficiently, and extending the growing season through the winter months, it brought together several community-minded people and startups – including Trusscore – to generate a solution. 

The result? Project 4000 – a pair of low-cost, high-tech greenhouses created inside of two 20-foot shipping containers, one of which has already been outfitted with Trusscore Wall&CeilingBoard and Trusscore SlatWall

The Project (4000)

The shipping container grow room project is a logical extension of The Working Centre’s community mindset. For nearly 10 years it has operated a garden on two acres of land adjacent to the Kitchener, Ontario-based event space. People sign up as members and are able to buy fresh, organic produce, or grow their own produce, as well as get instruction and help in how to do so. 

“We have a pretty thriving urban agriculture project,” says Joe Mancini, who co-founded The Working Centre with his wife Stephanie in 2011.

“The idea for Project 4000 was to build on that, and to add a new dimension to maybe make us more efficient, more productive.” 

Joe Mancini - Co-Founder, The Working Centre

Hacienda Sarria owner Ron Doyle, who also operates the massive Lot42 event space in Kitchener and has long had an interest in the utility of shipping containers, as well as community improvement, donated the containers. Other players were then brought on board, among them, Kevin LeBlanc co-founder of a technology startup Brilliant Photonics, which aims to boost food production and sustainability through lighting efficiencies and improvements in greenhouses and other similar controlled environments.  

LeBlanc was already using Trusscore products in his company’s projects. Doing so again for Project 4000 was, he says, “a no-brainer.” Shipping container wall panels, he says, need to be easy to install, easy to clean, and durable. Trusscore fit the bill on all counts – and more besides. 

“There are a couple other reasons why Trusscore products made sense for us as container wall panels,” says LeBlanc. 

“One of the main reasons is because of the antibacterial properties and the water resistivity. And the second reason is because of the reflectivity. 

“Shipping container interior wall panels need to have a nice, white surface to be reflective. A white reflective material causes a dispersion of light that improves plant growth. It's been studied and tested by many universities. 

“So, it’s going to reflect really well and it's going to hold up against water.” 

Trusscore donated enough of its Wall&CeilingBoard and SlatWall product to outfit the containers. Installation in one was completed just last month and LeBlanc did much of the work himself. 

“Superb product. Easy and quick to install,” he says, adding that the space created between the wall of the shipping container and the Trusscore panels was able to accommodate space for insulation, which will save on energy costs for the indoor grow room

The Results

The actual work of growing products inside the container spaces will be looked after by another Kitchener-based startup, Maison Verte. Maison Verte aims to improve food security and support local communities through sustainable urban farming. 

Maison Verte co-founder Anam Rahman says that Trusscore wall panels created easy-to-install functionality and expects the produce that results will boost The Working Centre’s output by 4,000 servings of greens per month, generating $6,000 in additional profit for it to reinvest into its community services. 

“[Trusscore products] fulfilled a lot of criteria,” says Rahman. “It was white, so it helped with the reflectivity. We're dealing with seedlings or microgreens in an artificial environment, and we really needed to maximize any reflection we can get. 

“And then the other thing is like is that we're dealing in such a compact space. There's high humidity from the soil. It can get messy and dirty and we wanted something that was anti-microbial, something that we can easily wipe and wash down and keep everything sanitized.” 

The latter point, sanitization, emerged as a key requirement in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Trusscore products, unlike drywall and fibre reinforced plastic, or FRP, are impervious to water, making cleaning easy. 

"We wanted to make sure that [the interior of the container] was like something that we can sanitize and clean,” says Rahman, “and there's not going to be water damage or anything like that. 

“Our alternative was drywall, and that would have not cut it at all.” 

As the saying goes, mighty oaks from little acorns grow. The Working Centre planted the seeds. Many community partners, including Trusscore, are helping roots take hold, ones that will strengthen the community and improve healthy food production. That’s something we can all grow to like.