By Bridget Shirvell
The so-called "cheese pods" that have helped the Mystic Cheese Co. grow are actually upcycled containers, now being used by food producers across the country.
On a 900-acre family-run dairy farm in Lebanon, Connecticut, two shipping containers sit among the barns and fields. Inside, in what is probably one of the smallest cheese-production facilities in the country, Brian Civitello creates cheeses that are winning the hearts of professional and home chefs alike.
Soft-ripened and buttery, with a mildly sweet yet tart taste, Mystic Cheese Co.'s signature product, Melville cheese, is a kitchen workhorse. Great in pastas, grilled cheese sandwiches and any dish that calls for melty cheese, it can be found in restaurants and specialty markets throughout the United States. But this cheese, along with four other types that the company now produces, wouldn't exist without the upcycled shipping containers that Civitello fondly refers to as "cheese pods."
"We never would have been able to grow without the pods," said Civitello. "They allowed us to test the waters and focus on developing the brand."
Across the country, people now use upcycled shipping containers to grow mushrooms and herbs and even serve as restaurants. But when Civitello and his business partner, Jason Sobocinski, began Mystic Cheese Co., in 2013, their use in food production was relatively new. "We were just throwing spaghetti against the wall," said Civitello.
The containers let them keep costs and production time low. By taking milk directly from cows on the farm for cheese production, they have been able to age 30,000 pounds of cheese a year on average. The process blends Civitello's love of technology with lessons learned from a childhood growing up on a small family farm. After spending his early 20s as a DJ, Civitello was inspired by his Italian grandfather to study cheesemaking in Italy. He learned how to make cheese over an open fire in a copper pot from a cheesemaker in the Alps and studied industrial production from some of the larger cheesemakers.
"I like technology, and I don't mind industrial production," said Civitello. "I thought if this guy is in the mountains, doing it by hand, how are these guys making it? What I learned is that there are parts they keep their hands on and parts that can be done by more efficient systems. Cheesemaking is a mix of science and art."
Yet, when Civitello returned from Italy, producing cheese was an afterthought. He started a consulting business for cheesemakers but grew tired of doing what was essentially damage control on mistakes made during the construction of production facilities. Wanting to make a mobile infrastructure he could build and send to cheesemakers, he created the pods that became Mystic Cheese Co. "Mystic Cheese Co. took off so fast that we disbanded the consulting business," said Civitello.
This fall, the company will more than double their production capacity by moving into a 4,000-square-foot facility. There, they'll not only ripen cheese but also open a full-service cheese shop and café that will connect to a brewery in the same building. Not bad for a company that started out of two eight-by-40-foot containers.
From Mushrooms to Meat Processing
Over the past few years, the use of upcycled shipping containers in the food industry has exploded. Here are just a few of the ways they are being used.
A Mushroom Nursery
A Solution to Filling the Food Gap
To create a year-round food supply, the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma installed a vertical farm in two eight-by-40-foot shipping containers that can produce up to 1,800 heads of lettuce and other leafy greens every 45 days.
A Meat Processing Plant
One of the most popular uses for shipping containers is mini-farms. Los Angeles-based Local Roots Farms buys shipping containers from the Port of Los Angeles and renovates them into mini-farms, which have sold produce to organizations like SpaceX and the United Nations. New York-based Square Roots uses shipping containers to grow leafy greens year-round.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Modern Farmer.
By the looks of these innovative projects, the global shipping container trend is here to stay. Done correctly, a shipping container home can be built affordably, quickly, sustainably and even look good. But for a more important reason, builders are also flipping these large steel boxes into homes to house people who need it the most.
Shipping Containers Are Becoming 'Home, Sweet Home' All Over the World https://t.co/H5X5Is8nUF @AdorableHomes https://t.co/T56CRM8unZ— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1455374518.0
1. Homes for the homeless
The Los Angeles Times recently featured the efforts of American Family Housing, a nonprofit organization that's building a two-story, 16-unit apartment building out of shipping containers to house Orange County's homeless veterans. The building is scheduled to open in January, making it California's first ever shipping-container apartment building.
Ending chronic homelessness for our veterans one unit at a time...🇺🇸🏚 Potter's Lane in Midway City, Calif.… https://t.co/9LJ9r5Rn39— AFH (@AFH)1474472950.0
"We are putting them in housing—very energy-efficient, very structurally strong, very beautiful multifamily housing. It happens to be that the materials that will build that housing are shipping containers," Donna Gallup, the group's chief executive, told the Los Angeles Times.
Los Angeles happens to be home to the nation's largest port, meaning that the project is also making use of empty containers that are otherwise taking up space at the docks.
Port of LA to Open World's First Off-Grid Terminal Powered Entirely by Renewables - EcoWatch https://t.co/ht3huPmfmr @green_energy_uk @envAm— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1469135411.0
2. Military applications
The same Los Angeles Times report also highlighted the works of American contractors working for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that have built hundreds of shipping container homes in Iraq and Afghanistan to billet military and other U.S. personnel.
While they aren't the most eye-pleasing, a shipping container home—or a Containerized Housing Unit—can be ideal in a war zone because they aren't meant to be permanent. Sustainable real estate company Three Squared Construction CEO Leslie Horn described to NREI how shipping containers "have provided strength and portability." Shipping containers are naturally easy to transport since they are stackable, seaworthy and resistant to flooding.
Horn added that "[cargo containers] have numerous applications in humanitarian efforts as temporary and permanent housing, transport of goods and commercial pop-ups."
Containerized housing units being moved in a U.S. Army installation in Baghdad in 2008.Wikimedia Commons
3. Housing shortages
Montainer Inc., a builder based out of Missoula, Montana, is trying to solve Portland's notorious housing shortage one shipping container at a time.
Portland Business Journal, "the company sees its offerings as part of the solution to the Rose City's increasingly tight and expensive housing market."
"We see each of these backyards as a vacant lot, with the potential to add much needed housing for the city," said Montainer co-founder and CEO, Patrick Collins, in a release. "We are empowering individual homeowners with a streamlined way to add an [Accessory Dwelling Units] to their backyard, and in essence, become micro developers who can collectively make a real dent in rising housing costs."
A typical Montainer unit with less than 1,000 square feet costs between $80,000 and $120,000. "We really started the company to make homeownership more attainable," Collins told Oregon Live.
A demo unit displayed in Pioneer Courthouse Square in Portland, Oregon summer 2016.Montainer
4. Student accommodations
In Amsterdam, The Wenckehof—which consists of 1,000 shipping containers converted into housing for students—is the largest development of its kind, The Guardian reported in October 2015.
Although shipping container homes have its critics, advocates tout its versatility and affordability. One Wenckehof resident told The Guardian that he pays is €450 a month ($505) in rent to live at Wenckehof and also qualifies for a €140 ($170) monthly housing subsidy, much cheaper than the €600 ($675) a month that students often pay to share an apartment in central Amsterdam.
The Wenckehof is not the only shipper container building designed for young academics. Design Boom recently featured an innovative floating, carbon neutral property called The Urban Rigger. The structure is meant to provide affordable and sustainable homes for students in Copenhagen. Amenities include a courtyard, kayak landing, a bathing platform, a barbecue area and a communal roof terrace. Nine container units are stacked in a circle to create 15 studio residences that frame a centralized communal courtyard.
"The housing is also buoyant, like a boat, so that can be replicated in other harbor cities where affordable housing is needed, but space is limited," the designers told Design Boom.
The Urban Rigger features a slew of green building components, including hydro source heating, solar panels and low energy pumps.
"Each year, thousands of newly enrolled students wind up on the student housing office's official list of people in urgent need of a place to live, and it is well-known fact that the real problem far exceeds the official registration. A situation that, by all standards, is completely unacceptable!" the company states on its website.
The first full scale Urban Rigger was launched in the summer 2016 in Copenhagen—or as the company says, "the first in a potential fleet of mobile, sustainable dwellings, for students, refugees and others, in urgent need of a home."
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.