STAPLES — Central Lakes College’s Ag and Energy Center in Staples is the new home of ‘Sota Grown, a collaborative indoor agriculture container farm project.

The project consists of an insulated shipping container outfitted with a complete hydroponic growing system able to provide numerous Minnesotans with fresh, leafy greens year-round. Partners include Todd-Wadena Electric Cooperative, Lakewood Health System, Great River Energy, the Electric Research Power Institute and CLC.

Following installation of the container farm, CLC students will receive hands-on training to plant, maintain and harvest the growing crops, the first of which will be kale, ready to be harvested 10 weeks from planting. The kale will then be delivered to Lakewood for its Food Farmacy program that feeds more than 600 people monthly.

Great River Energy, Todd-Wadena Electric Cooperative and Electric Research Power will collect data throughout the process for electricity load planning, technology evaluation and beneficial rate design analysis.

“Efficiencies with indoor food production and hydroponics will be critical as we look to feeding a growing global population that will surpass 9 billion in a few decades,” Keith Olander, CLC dean of agriculture studies, said in a news release.

The ‘Sota Grown project is part of a national indoor crop production demonstration effort that looks at how using efficient electricity, technology, plant sciences and control solutions to create microclimates can produce ideal conditions for plant growth, yield, quality and consistency.

Growing produce locally for area communities will also reduce distance to market — a significant factor for Todd and Wadena counties since they are impacted by food deserts — thereby reducing net greenhouse gas emissions. Leafy greens generally travel an average of 2,000 miles before reaching a store, according to the release.

A ribbon-cutting event where the public will be able to view and tour the container farm will be this spring. Those interested in following the process from seedlings to the first harvest can do so on the ‘Sota Grown Facebook page.