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AP PHOTOS: Former shipping container maker uses them to farm

After a career making shipping containers that transport freight around the world, Arthur Lee has stayed with them in retirement, using them to raise crops and fish.

Operating on a rented 1,000-square-meter (quarter-acre) patch of wasteland in Hong Kong's rural Yuen Long, Lee's MoVertical Farm utilizes about 30 decommissioned containers, some decades old, to raise red watercress and other local vegetables hydroponically, eliminating the need for soil. A few are also used as ponds for freshwater fish.

The bounty is sold to supermarkets in the crowded city of 7.5 million that is forced to import most of its food.

Arthur Lee, owner of MoVertical Farm, walks beside his shipping containers in Yuen Long, Hong Kong's New Territories Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020. Operating on a rented 1,000 square meter patch of wasteland in the Hong Kong's rural area, Lee's MoVertical Farm utilizes around 30 of the decommissioned containers, to raise red water cress and other local vegetables hydroponically, which eliminates the need for soil. A few are also used as ponds for freshwater fish. (AP PhotoKin Cheung)

As one of the world's great trading hubs, Hong Kong is a rich source of the sturdy 40-foot (12-meter) -long boxes.

Lee uses the latest technology to monitor his crops. The controlled environment inside the boxes uses a hydroponic drip system to deliver nutrients, eliminate the need for herbicides and pesticides, and reduce risks from pests, small animals and bad weather. Temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide levels, nutrient mixtures and light can all be monitored and adjusted.

And if Lee loses his lease, he can load his container farm onto trucks and move it elsewhere with minimal disruption.

Arthur Lee, owner of MoVertical Farm, controls the water coming out of the pipes watering the roots of vegetables planted in the pillars in Yuen Long, Hong Kong's New Territories Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020. Operating on a rented 1,000 square meter patch of wasteland in Hong Kong's rural area, Lee's MoVertical Farm utilizes around 30 of the decommissioned containers, to raise red water cress and other local vegetables hydroponically, which eliminates the need for soil. (AP PhotoKin Cheung)

Shipping container farms have taken off in countries around the world with wildly varying climates, from freezing to tropical, and on scales ranging from single containers to dozens. Many are located in urban areas where fresh produce can easily be delivered to stores or directly to consumers. While vegetables, fruits such as strawberries and freshwater fish are among the most popular, some growers have turned to raising high-protein insects as a food supplement.

Controlled environment agriculture is just one use for shipping containers, both new and old. In poorer nations, they are often used as shops with the added advantage of locking up tightly at closing time. In more affluent nations, they have been turned into tiny homes, painting studios, coffee shops, backyard sheds for hobbyists and even swimming pools. Online, containers can be bought for around $4,000, with basic home conversions going for $30,000 or more.

Arthur Lee, owner of MoVertical Farm, works on the plastic pillars with hydroponic vegetable cultivation at his farm in Yuen Long, Hong Kong's New Territories Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020. Operating on a rented 1,000 square meter patch of wasteland in the Hong Kong's rural area, Lee's farm utilizes around 30 of the decommissioned containers, to raise red water cress and other local vegetables hydroponically, which eliminates the need for soil. A few are also used as ponds for freshwater fish. (AP PhotoKin Cheung)

An aerial view of the shipping containers stacked on top of each other at the MoVertical Farm in Yuen Long, Hong Kong's New Territories Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020. Operating on a rented 1,000 square meter patch of wasteland in the Hong Kong's rural area, Lee's MoVertical Farm utilizes around 30 of the decommissioned containers, to raise red water cress and other local vegetables hydroponically, which eliminates the need for soil. A few are also used as ponds for freshwater fish. (AP PhotoKin Cheung)

Arthur Lee, owner of MoVertical Farm, and his staff feed their fish inside a shipping container in Yuen Long, Hong Kong's New Territories Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020. After a career making the shipping containers that transport untold tons of freight around the world, Arthur Lee has stuck with the metal boxes in retirement, now by repurposing them as farming environments for raising crops and fish. (AP PhotoKin Cheung)

Arthur Lee, owner of MoVertical Farm, looks after his fish inside a shipping container in Yuen Long, Hong Kong's New Territories Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020. After a career making the shipping containers that transport untold tons of freight around the world, Lee has stuck with the metal boxes in retirement, now by repurposing them as farming environments for raising crops and fish. (AP PhotoKin Cheung)

Arthur Lee, owner of MoVertical Farm, holds fish in net beside a shipping container in Yuen Long, Hong Kong's New Territories on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020. After a career making the shipping containers that transport untold tons of freight around the world, Lee has stuck with the metal boxes in retirement, now by repurposing them as farming environments for raising crops and fish. (AP PhotoKin Cheung)

Arthur Lee, owner of MoVertical Farm, works on his fish tank inside a shipping container in Yuen Long, Hong Kong's New Territories Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020. After a career making the shipping containers that transport untold tons of freight around the world, Lee has stuck with the metal boxes in retirement, now by repurposing them as farming environments for raising crops and fish. (AP PhotoKin Cheung)

A staff member tests the Nitrogen and Ammonia of the fish tank's water at the MoVertical Farm in Yuen Long, Hong Kong's New Territories, Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020. Operating on a rented 1,000 square meter patch of wasteland in the city's rural area, Arthur Lee's MoVertical Farm utilizes around 30 of the decommissioned containers, to raise red water cress and other local vegetables hydroponically, which eliminates the need for soil. A few are also used as ponds for freshwater fish, with the bounty sold to local supermarkets in this crowded city of 7.5 million that is forced to import most of its food. (AP PhotoKin Cheung)

Arthur Lee, owner of MoVertical Farm, prepares to deliver his fish to market at his farm in Hong Kong's rural Yuen Long, Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020. After a career making the shipping containers that transport untold tons of freight around the world, Lee has stuck with the metal boxes in retirement, now by repurposing them as farming environments for raising crops and fish. (AP PhotoKin Cheung)

The fish of MoVertical Farm are seen on net beside a shipping container in Yuen Long, Hong Kong's New Territories on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020. Operating on a rented 1,000 square meter patch of wasteland in Hong Kong's rural Yuen Long, Arthur Lee's MoVertical Farm utilizes around 30 of the decommissioned containers to raise red water cress and other local vegetables hydroponically, which eliminates the need for soil. A few are also used as ponds for freshwater fish, with the bounty sold to local supermarkets in this crowded city of 7.5 million that is forced to import most of its food. (AP PhotoKin Cheung)

A monitor shows the interior of containers at the MoVertical Farm in Yuen Long, Hong Kong's New Territories, Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020. Operating on a rented 1,000 square meter patch of wasteland in the city's rural area, Arthur Lee's MoVertical Farm utilizes around 30 of the decommissioned containers, to raise red water cress and other local vegetables hydroponically, which eliminates the need for soil. A few are also used as ponds for freshwater fish, with the bounty sold to local supermarkets in this crowded city of 7.5 million that is forced to import most of its food. (AP PhotoKin Cheung)

A fish from MoVertical Farm, is shown at a supermarket in Hong Kong, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020. Operating on a rented 1,000 square meter patch of wasteland in Hong Kong's rural Yuen Long, Arthur Lee's MoVertical Farm utilizes around 30 of the decommissioned containers, to raise red water cress and other local vegetables hydroponically, which eliminates the need for soil. A few are also used as ponds for freshwater fish, with the bounty sold to local supermarkets in this crowded city of 7.5 million that is forced to import most of its food. (AP PhotoKin Cheung)

A girl stands next to the fish from MoVertical Farm at a supermarket in Hong Kong Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020. Operating on a rented 1,000 square meter patch of wasteland in Hong Kong's rural Yuen Long, Arthur Lee's MoVertical Farm utilizes around 30 of the decommissioned containers, to raise red water cress and other local vegetables hydroponically, which eliminates the need for soil. A few are also used as ponds for freshwater fish, with the bounty sold to local supermarkets in this crowded city of 7.5 million that is forced to import most of its food. (AP PhotoKin Cheung)

A TV screen shows a footage of Arthur Lee, owner of the MoVertical Farm, at a supermarket in Hong Kong Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020. Operating on a rented 1,000 square meter patch of wasteland in Hong Kong's rural Yuen Long, Arthur Lee's MoVertical Farm utilizes around 30 of the decommissioned containers, to raise red water cress and other local vegetables hydroponically, which eliminates the need for soil. A few are also used as ponds for freshwater fish, with the bounty sold to local supermarkets in this crowded city of 7.5 million that is forced to import most of its food. (AP PhotoKin Cheung)