Transporting food from farm to cities could be a lot less polluting if we borrow on methods used in the past. While it is totally unfeasible to bring back the horse and wagon, reharnessing the power of wind and water makes perfect sense.

All cities are built around or next to a body of water, be it a river or a lake. Its one of the first elements a location needs to sustain inhabitants. Without water, there is no life. Once upon a time, a lot of farm produce and products or materials from distant locations and rural areas arrived in the city on the water. A method of food freight that one enterprising farmer in Vermont is ready to readopt for the purpose of hauling the foods raised on his rural farm into New York City.

Erik Andrus is a farmer with a mission. He won’t use a motor of any kind to power up his new produce transporter. Forget about paddle wheel boats and steam ships or ferries. These all depend on petroleum fuels to move. Oars and sails are in and a savvy group of rural farmers in the right situation would be wise to take a good long look at Andrus’ concept. From the mighty Mississippi to Lake Huron and west to the Platte River… a host of other large bodies of fresh water offer a truly green and fully sustainable mode of food transportation directly into not just one, but many downtown neighborhoods.

How much would it cost to build a viable muscle and wind-powered food freighter? Not as much as you might assume, Erik’s design will cost only $15,000 to complete. Far less expensive than just one new full sized pickup truck is to purchase… before you even consider adding the trailer and maintaining it, or the costly issue of continually putting gasoline in the tank.

Trading companies trafficked the waterways all over the work in the days before highways and interstate freeways. The flat bottomed barge was in use all over North America picking up and delivering all types of food along hundreds of miles of river and lake shore. This is exactly the plan that is behind Erick’s Vermont Sail Freight Project. Once no more than a obscure concept, Andrus put it on Kickstarter in hopes of raising the funds to construct his 21st century version of these long retired vessels. Did he meet the goal? Yes, and with some extra funding included.

Ceres Scale Model: Wind-Powered Food TransportThe trading route for Vermont Sail Freight is 300 miles long and will haul farm and forest products from Lake Champlain in Ferrisburg, Vermont through a series of locks and canals that empty into the Hudson River with a finishing destination of the New Amsterdam farmers market in Manhattan. Starting out the fresh goods will come from a group of farmers in the Champlain Valley. Andrus hopes that other markets and farms will join in along his trade route. Currently there are half a dozen planned ports of call that the sail freighter will dock to do business. The barge won’t be going home empty either, he offers fair trade haulage for things like coffee and chocolate, though this will no doubt grow with time.

It is an awesome idea, and one that makes a great deal of sense. Not just for the Hudson Valley. For all the rural farmers out there that drive through the night to be at market before the city starts moving, Andrus’ concept could mean a less hectic lifestyle. Big rivers intersect the continent in many places and offer marketing spots for fresh foods and other goods from start to finishing up wherever the outlet is. Sail freight may once again witness a heyday as cooperatives discover that there is more than one way to get your fresh goods and added value products to market.

The Ceres’ virgin voyage is set for September 2013. They call it carbon neutral freight, a blast from the past that can help to make the future brighter for small farms and city dwellers too. The BBC in the UK was impressed enough to mention the small scale project in a piece about sail freight being the future of shipping goods in January 2013.

Learn more about the market barge and this unique regional farm to plate concept:

Image of Andrus courtesy of Addison County Independent.

Tammy Clayton

Tammy Clayton

Content crafter and Senior Editor at Garden Culture Magazine
Tammy has been immersed in the world of plants and growing since her first job as an assistant weeder at the tender age of 8. Heavily influenced by a former life as a landscape designer and nursery owner, she swears good looking plants follow her home. (Some feel she's got a perennial obsession, others say the problem is tomato plants.)

If you don't find her at the desk - check the gardens. When not writing and weeding, she enjoys a good book, painting junk furniture, and blending the harvest of heirloom tomatoes and chiles into salsas.
Tammy Clayton

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