Largest Indoor Vertical Farm In The Nation Opens In Chicago

By Anthony Todd in Food on Mar 22, 2013 4:20PM

Lately, some packages of fresh basil have been showing up at grocery stores around the city stamped with the name "FarmedHere." You may have run into them at Whole Foods, or you may have noticed the FarmedHere brand at the Good Food Festival last weekend. Either way, if you're like us, your first response was: "How are they possibly growing basil in this horrible weather?" The answer to that question officially opens today: the largest indoor vertical farm in America.

Located down in Bedford Park, the farm uses aquaponics technology to grow what will eventually amount to more than a million pounds of produce a year, all in one 90,000 square foot warehouse. What is aquaponics? The facility looks almost space-age, but the technology is relatively simple. It's a take on hydroponics, the growing of plants without soil, but with an added step - in this case, tanks of tilapia. The nutrient-rich waste from the fish helps to feed the plants. Then you end up with two products, fish and greens, grown within the same space and with fewer resources used because of the closed cycle.

Rather than buying lettuce from Mexico in the winter, lettuce can be produced by FarmedHere year round. The process is efficient (the system wastes practically no water and recycles everything) and reduces the distance the food has to travel from thousands of miles to around 30 miles into the city. The company started as a 4000 square foot farm that delivered its produce by hand in ziplock bags, but after getting some startup capital (partly through the Good Food Financing Conference) they were able to expand.

FarmedHere isn't the only company to be doing this sort of farming - several aquaponics startups are running at The Plant, for instance. But this farm is operating on another level of scale. This is great example of creative use of urban space to grow food and create jobs - the project will eventually employ 200 people. As the farm ramps up, look for more and more items with the FarmedHere logo in stores. Check out the photos to get a sense of the scale of the operation.