Mobile Aquaponic Lettuce Farm

Independent Study and Internship
Year: 2013, summer, Tulane University
Duration: 2 months
VertiFarms Supervisor: Kevin Morgan-Rothschild
Faculty Advisor: Emilie Taylor
Hardware/Software: Hydroponic and Aeroponic growing sites, SketchUp, Rhino, V-Ray for Rhino, AutoCAD, Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, and InDesign
Mobile Aquaponic Lettuce Farm

In collaboration with VertiFarms, a design build farm in New Orleans, Louisiana, this project developed a kit of parts for aquaponic urban lettuce farming. Using a 40 foot shipping container as a base, all the necessary equipment for the lettuce farm could be assembled in a warehouse then shipped and installed using this same container. This processes laid out by this project eliminates the need for excess packaging materials and skilled labor on site. The kit also can include a roof (shown above) for PV panels and rainwater harvesting to allow for self sufficiency of the farm. 

Plan (click to enlarge)

Section (click to enlarge)


An aquaponic system creates a symbiotic relationship between fish and produce. A fish tank is hooked up to the watering system of the plants (in Vertifarm’s case, lettuce). The waste from the fish provides nutrients to the plants. The plants, in turn, clean the water for the fish. An additional benefit to aquaponic systems is that they do not need soil. The plants float in foam insulation in the water, and the water usage is therefore greatly reduced from usual planting requirements. Because the lettuce is floating in water, the temperature of the lettuce is reduced during the growing period. These floating systems can be stacked around five systems tall, also allowing for high yield in a small area. This system, using natural fertilizer, no dirt, little water, and a small footprint is both sustainable and able to produce a harvest year round. VertiFarms’s focus is on the importance of growing sustainable food in new and inventive ways. According the Tulane School of Public health, about two-thirds of New Orleans land contains dangerous levels of lead, which may be due to the demolition of homes containing lead following Hurricane Katrina. Vertifarm’s growing methods avoid lead-dirt contamination, and also allow for mass production in a small footprint. Mass production in a small footprint is an important issue in low-income, high-density areas of New Orleans such as Broadmoor, Uptown-Carrolton, and the Lower Ninth Ward, where food deserts have risen following Hurricane Katrina. Vertifarms is providing agrowing system that allows local small businesses to produce sustainable food on their own rooftops. In working with the Hollygrove Market and Farm, VertiFarms is working to introduce their cutting edge methods to the urban farmers of New Orleans and the local community. In this way they hope to provide both new knowledge and opportunity in urban New Orleans.

VertiFarms Aquaponic Demonstration Farm at Hollygrove Market and Farm (click to enlarge)


For the purposes of proper ventilation and humidity control in the Louisianan climate, the container needed to as water and air-tight as possible. In contrast to the glass greenhouses that are designed to capture heat in the northern winter, the shipping container farm is designed to eliminate the heat of the southern summer.
Systems (click to enlarge)