The FarmedHere urban farming company, which has been successfully conducting urban farming work in the Chicago area since 2011, has received USDA organic certification.
The organic vertical farming practice makes use of derelict warehouses to produce food for the community. The company recently expanded with a new 90,000 square foot post-industrial building in Bedford Park, Illinois, on top of their 10,000 square foot warehouse in Flanagan and a smaller operation in Englewood.
The new warehouse, located 15 miles from Chicago, grows more than one million pounds of greenery such as herbs, arugula, watercress and other micro greens, per year. The greenery is sold to local restaurants and stores in Chicago, including Whole Foods and Green Grocer.
Production is based on two systems, aquaponics and aeroponics. Several types of fish, mainly tilapia, are grown in the tanks that feed the aquaponic system which results in very little water wastage.
“We use about three percent of the water of traditional agriculture and it’s all recyclable,” says FarmedHere CEO Jolanta Hardej.
FarmedHere- Aquaponics produces organic herbs like basil and other greens and supports raising tilapia, while the aeroponics produces leafy greens like arugala and watercress.
The indoor nature of the farm allows total control over the environment in which the fish and plants are grown.
The Bedford Park warehouse is the first aquaponic farm in the United States to receive organic certification from the USDA and also the largest indoor facility in the country.
“This is a major milestone for the emergence of indoor, urban farming,” says Hardej.
“We have successfully developed the technology and process to grow indoors in an entirely organic way.”
The production process does not involve any use of pesticides, chemicals, herbicides, fungicides, antibiotics or hormones. Carrying the label of USDA organic also means the use of irradiation, genetic engineering, and irradiation of sewage sludge is prohibited.
FarmedHere was awarded its USDA Organic Certification at the end of 2012 and the new facility was in part funded by Whole Foods, the farm’s largest customer.
The plants grow vertically on six shelves from floor to ceiling, tended to by employees on lifts. Vertical farming allows the company to cover nearly 3.5 acres of growing space.
Like other indoor urban farms, there are plenty of environmental benefits. There is no need to run heavy farm equipment and the produce does not need to be shipped long distances, conserving precious fossil fuels.
FarmedHere employs local workers to reduce transport requirements. Local youths in the Windy City Harvest urban agricultural training program also get the opportunity to work on the farm.
The company has plans for continued expansion and its success goes to show that as urban areas become more dense, there are benefits to farming upward rather than outward.