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World’s largest vertical farm is certified organic

Sensemaking / World’s largest vertical farm is certified organic

Chicago-based farm in previously empty warehouse gets USDA seal of approval.

By Futures Centre / 19 Sep 2013

A 90,000 square foot warehouse based 15 miles outside of Chicago is now a thriving urban garden that supplies nearly 1 million pounds of herbs, arugula, watercress and other greens to local restaurants and grocery stores. The company behind it, FarmedHere, uses an aquaponic system, with waste from tilapia fish providing nutrients for the plants. Whole Foods, the largest of its customers, helped finance the facility with a $100,000 loan. As well as being the largest vertical farm in the US, it is also the first to be certified organic by the US Department of Agriculture.

FarmedHere had to battle outdated zoning codes that didn't allow farms within the city limits in order to establish the new site. “We were lucky to be within the Bedford Park, a local, progressive community with an energetic Mayor”, says Paul Hardej, co-founder and Vice President for Development. “It took a lot of education and hand-holding on our part, but the end result is a win-win for us and the community.”

The extent to which the farm merits its organic certification is disputed. Louis Albright, a professor emeritus at Cornell University who has been involved in agricultural engineering research and teaching since the 1970s, dismisses it as marketing hype: “There are almost no pesticides certified for greenhouse vegetable growing”, he says. He is concerned about the large carbon footprint of indoor growing systems that rely on artificial light.

Nonetheless, the efficiencies of FarmedHere are impressive: the farm saves 90% of its water, compared to conventional farming techniques, and produces no agricultural runoff. Additionally, all of its waste, such as plant roots, stems and even biodegradable packaging, is recycled in collaboration, making FarmedHere a zero-waste facility.

“There is always going to be some kind of impact, but a food growing system that is based on principles of nutrient recycling, growing fresh produce close to market and reducing waste has to be supported”, says Mark Driscoll, Head of Food at Forum for the Future. “There is great potential to develop more of these type of approaches using roof spaces across many of our urban areas, particularly in the developed world.” – John Eischeid

Photo credit: FarmedHere

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