While working with the United Nations Habitat Program in Kisumu, Kenya, Brandi DeCarli, founder of Farm from a Box realized the opportunity to grow and strengthen local farms. The inspiration – a modified shipping container – was unsuspecting yet brought limitless possibility. Since 2009, Farm from a Box has taken off to strengthen local communities by using cutting edge technology developed by NASA and others. Carli tells us more about how her work in South Africa and Kenya ultimately compelled her to build this groundbreaking agriculture technology company.
What is your business, and what problem you are solving?
Farm from a Box reinvents community-based farming. We use modern technology to make farming more efficient, more productive, and more environmentally beneficial, all in one deliverable system.
Over the years, industrialized agriculture has severely degraded our soil, put a massive strain on our natural resources, and decreased the nutritional value of our food. The food that is grown is often shipped great distances over complex distribution channels that leave access gaps between communities. We need a way to produce more nutritious, sustainably grown food locally in a cost-effective, scalable way.
Farm from a Box offers deliverable infrastructure to strengthen local food production at the community level. It is basically a tricked-out shipping container that comes equipped with all of the technology needed to start and maintain a two-acre planted farm. It is specifically designed to conserve water, save energy, and help build healthy soil.
The tools and technology exist today to solve that problem, but they needed to be brought together into one holistic agriculture solution.
What inspired you to start your company?
The idea of Farm from a Box came about while we were developing a project with the UN Habitat in Kenya. We were working to build a youth empowerment center and used modified shipping containers to bring in basic resources around education, health, and sport. It quickly became apparent that accessing healthy food was also an issue, as the infrastructure wasn’t there to support it. So, we thought, what if we used a shipping container to provide the tools to start a farm and grow food right there? A mobile, deliverable “farm-in-a-box.”
The more we looked into it, the more we realized that this problem was not unique to that area and in fact many communities throughout the world lack access to the infrastructure that can support and sustain reliable crop growth. The tools and technology exist today to solve that problem, but they needed to be brought together into one holistic agriculture solution: power, water, and connectivity.
What is your mission?
Every single person should have access to healthy, nutrient-rich food that is produced in a way that benefits the land and actively regenerates life. Our goal is to revolutionize local food production and enable communities around the world to grow their own nutritious food with clean technology.
Who is in your core team? How did your team come together?
My business partner, Scott Thompson, and I met about 8 years ago by pure serendipity at an event hosted by a former colleague. I was interested in the nonprofit sector and he mentioned he had been the Executive Director of three nonprofits. We arranged to meet up for lunch and talk nonprofits. During that lunch, we decided to start working together on the project in Kenya, which ultimately inspired the creation of Farm from a Box.
Please explain how you differ from your competition?
Our technology is cutting edge. We offer independent infrastructure, which is key to strengthening rural economies. We also counter the effects of climate change by rebuilding our own soil. Our approach works to sequester carbon from the atmosphere and convert it into a food-producing asset.
A skill you wish you had?
I would love to be able to breathe underwater. I am my happiest in the water, so if I could develop a “gill-skill,” I would.
On the more practical side, I’m actively working on not only being a better listener, but really hearing people. I have a tendency at times to rush through things in my mind, and that means sometimes I’m not being fully present with whomever I’m with.
Did you ever experience a “life-changing moment?”
My life-changing moment was when I decided to uproot myself and go to South Africa. At the time, I was feeling unfulfilled in the work I was doing, but was unsure of what direction to take next. My “big impossible” was to go live my National Geographic dreams in Africa. So, I went for it. I joined a research program that allowed me to work on a Big 5 Game Reserve in the Limpopo Province South Africa studying the behavioral ecology of large predators on a small game reserve (21,000 acres to be precise). Tracking and monitoring everything from lions, leopards, hyenas, and elephants was one of the most humbling and igniting experiences I have ever had.
My time in South Africa empowered me to live in creation of my dreams. It also provided me with a broader understanding of the challenges that many communities in the developing world face, which played a role in my inspiration for Farm from a Box.
Whenever I get nervous and start to shrink, I can hear that inner voice telling me to be brave and it always fires me up!
Do you have a favorite childhood memory?
Many, but one that comes to my mind as being significant is when my dad gave me a purple BMX scooter for Christmas. I was about 6 or 7 years old, and I wanted one so badly! On Christmas morning, we were at my grandparent’s house and he took me out to the front yard and surprised me with it. Obviously, I was elated and immediately starting rolling around and jumping off the curb.
Then, the neighborhood boys came out on their scooters and started to make fun of me. One of them challenged me to a race. I felt myself shrink and I wanted to go inside the house, but my dad leaned down, and said, “Be brave, you can do it!” With the boys still taunting me, I decided to go for it. Still in my Christmas dress, I kicked off my “pretty shoes” and grabbed my sneakers.
We all start speeding down the block. I stretched my little legs as far as they could go in big sweeping strides, pulled ahead and WON! It felt like the most amazing moment of victory. To this day, whenever I get nervous and start to shrink, I can hear that inner voice telling me to be brave and it always fires me up!
Equity crowdfunding gives you vital feedback and insights from the very market you are serving.
Why Republic? Why equity crowdfunding?
We were one of the first companies to raise on Republic back in 2016. From the moment I met Kendrick Nguyen (CEO of Republic), I knew he was the real deal and we needed to be a part of what he was building. The opportunity was there, and our values were completely aligned.
Equity crowdfunding has been great for us. It gives you access to the capital you need to grow. However, there is more to gain than just capital in choosing when you open up your company to the public. Equity crowdfunding gives you vital feedback and insights from the very market you are serving. Specifically, it broadened the scope of our overall customer base and also deepened a lot of those relationships. Some of our investors have literally become brand ambassadors of Farm from a Box and we love that!
What was the happiest moment of your life?
A recent moment that comes to my mind actually occurred in a time of heartache.
Just this past October, I had traveled down to Southern California to support my family through the recent passing of my grandfather. One evening, after my grandmother had gone to bed, I tried to catch up on work in the living room. When I was finished for the night, I went into the hallway and noticed that my grandmother’s bedroom light was still on. I knocked on the door, and saw that she was still awake. My grandmother, who is one of the strongest women I have ever met, said she was trying to remember what it felt like to be alone. We sat on the bed together and spent the next several hours talking about life, love, memories, and lessons learned. We laughed, we cried, and I learned things about her that I never knew. It was one of the most tender, connected moments I have ever experienced, and through that, one of my happiest.