Awesome Food is happy to announce that its sixth micro-grant of $1,000 has been awarded to Hatch, an international project which will convert shipping containers into farms for refugee camps.  The Hatch project, which is based out of Melbourne, Australia and Paris, France, is the first grantee from outside the United States chosen from among the nearly 800 applicants from around the world who have applied for grants from Awesome Food, a chapter of the Awesome Foundation.

The Hatch project aims to address the problem of the almost one billion people worldwide who suffer from malnutrition by placing mobile farms in the form of shipping containers into the areas that need it most. The containers use no soil and only require only one tenth of the water used in regular farming, making them perfect for regions experiencing desertification, such as the Horn of Africa.

“We love the Hatch team’s vision, passion and dedication to the project, and hope that this can be an inspiration of a new approach of microfarming,” said Jennifer 8. Lee, a journalist and Awesome Food trustee. “We hope that this grantee can catalyze the project and get them started on a model that can change the way we think about farming going forward.  We also appreciated the fact it was an international team that came together around a shared focus.”

The Hatch team is composed of six members, three based in Australia and three based in France. Tasman Murray, the Melbourne, Australia-based managing director of the Hatch team, explained, “Despite our different backgrounds in education, upbringing, mother tongue and skill set, we all had one thing in common. We were all tired of seeing efforts to fix some of the biggest problems in the world simply repeating the same things that haven’t worked in the past and being surprised when they still don’t work.”

Hatch member Dean Hewson of Melbourne, Australia shared that Hatch is a “solution that now seems obvious.” He added, “it hits so many of the structural constraints that were holding back meaningful change, it seems almost strange it’s not already happening.”

The Hatch team plans to use the $1,000 Awesome Food grant to purchase an 8-foot shipping container to use as a concept unit which they will start building by the end of March. The group has already acquired the land where they will test it out and are raising additional funds through an Indiegogo project to cover costs for miscellaneous items such as sandbags, scaffolding, pipes, seeds, and water storage.  They plan to have all testing complete by the end of June.

The Hatch model combines sustenance, nutritional education, capacity development and job creation, without much of the infrastructure that other farms employ. However, the mobile farming units use renewable energy and recycled materials and require no electricity. The units do not use pesticides or insecticides, so there’s no risk of polluting groundwater or damaging already fragile ecosystems. The work required to maintain the farms is low-intensity, as well, requiring none of the back‐breaking labor of conventional farming methods.

The Hatch team is hoping to target their efforts toward refugees, so they can give them “a measure of control in their lives, both in the camps and afterwards.” Many people who are displaced need both emergency and long-term solutions for nutrition, and tumultuous world politics and climate change will very likely increase the number of refugees, increasing the need for sustainable and effective food solutions, like Hatch containers.

Besides addressing malnutrition in general, the team is hoping to help decrease micronutrient malnutrition. While macronutrients are easily obtained from things like grain (which can supply protein, fats, and carbohydrates), micronutrients, like vitamins and minerals, are harder to get. Hatch containers are ideal for growing foods that supply many of these micronutrients.  The Hatch team reminds us that “macronutrients keep you alive, and micronutrients let you live.”

The containers have a modular hydroponic system that can support these micronutrient producing foods – such as microgreens, which grow quickly and take little space. The design focuses on reliability and strength, and has easy-to-replace parts, ensuring long-term viability, as well as short-term help. The team is hoping to empower women in refugee camps to run the farms in the short term, and then they plan to offer heavily subsidized containers for sale once things stabilize. They are also hoping to avoid making some of the mistakes other efforts have seen – like food aid from the US, where transportation costs account for as much as half of the money spent.

This project differs from other similar efforts in a few ways – Hatch member Stefan Rösner of Paris, France says, “It is true that there are many initiatives for tackling micronutrient malnutrition out there. We believe that our project has three distinct advantages: empowerment, cost efficiency and sustainability. Too often people in need are only the passive receivers of aid. Teaching people how to use a mobile farm and thus to help feed themselves and other members of their community allows them to become a part of the solution.”

For additional information on the Hatch project, please visit their website at hatchnext.org or email their managing director Tasman Murray.

(Photos courtesy of Hatch – via Flickr user Nite_Owl, Flickr user United Nations Photo, Flickr user Stewart under Creative Commons licenses)