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This urban farmer fulfills a dream and helps the community at the same time.

February 27, 2024

3 Min Read
Mario Vitalis smiling, standing near vertical growth chambers of greens
GREEN AND GROWING: Mario Vitalis grows produce for sale within his urban community in vertical growth chambers. Courtesy of Mario Vitalis

by Mallori Ann McGraw

Mario Vitalis, Indianapolis, wanted to expand his expertise from his regular 9-to-5 job to develop his own business and support his community. He dreamed of providing fresh food to his community through urban farming.

“I wanted to have a business that can provide for the community — you know, become good to the community and to the people around,” Vitalis says.

He founded New Age Provisions Farms. It uses hydroponics to grow fresh produce within shipping containers. This method is also called vertical farming.

Vitalis produces lettuce, kale, basil, cilantro and dill to ensure the Indianapolis community has access to fresh produce. Each of two shipping containers supports the equivalent of 2.5 to 3 acres of traditional farmland on only 320 square feet.

Vitalis received his first shipping container from Freight Farms in August 2020. His second came in January 2021.

Serving a need

According to Indy Food Policy, 200,000 Indianapolis residents live in a food desert without access to fresh, nutritious food. Vitalis is confident in his operation’s ability to help serve the community.

“We’re in a food desert, so having access to fresh food is a problem,” he says. “I think I’m able to solve that.”

With lack of farming experience and arable land, Vitalis reached out to Freight Farms. “It’s not hard to get into farming with this type of system because they provide all the pumps, lights — everything you need to have a turnkey business system,” he says.

Freight Farms provides the containers and training, and helps sort out all business aspects of the operation. The company has started over 550 shipping container farms since 2013.

The operation is manageable enough for Vitalis to still maintain his position as a full-time project manager at Dormakaba Americas, an Indianapolis-based business. He also gets help from a farm employee on harvest days.

New Age Provisions’ produce is sold directly to consumers through an online farmers market called Market Wagon. Vitalis also sells produce through his website, Plus, he delivers to local Community Supported Agriculture programs and cafeterias and offers a 10-week farm share program that delivers produce to the doorstep every quarter.

Vitalis was a Featured Farmer at the 2022 Indiana State Fair. He looks forward to the future development of his farm. His website even offers a book on shipping container farming, written by Vitalis.

Why care about vertical farming?

Hydroponic farming using shipping containers is an option for established farmers to diversify without obtaining more land. Shipping container farming does not require soil, just an open area. Various companies, such as Freight Farms, offer resources to get started.

Nathan Shoaf, diversified farming and food systems program leader and urban agriculture specialist for Purdue Extension, works with many urban agriculturists in the hydroponic business to plan and develop their farms.

He says established conventional farmers could sell to their current customer base in the conventional off-season with year-round production. That would maximize their growing and sale season.

Hydroponic farms take expertise. Shoaf says projects like hydroponics are never one-size-fits-all. He advises discussing plans with someone before jumping headfirst into the business.

To learn more, contact Shoaf at [email protected].

McGraw is a Purdue University graduate in agriculture communication.

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