BEDFORD PARK, Ill. — Farming in abandoned warehouses has become a hot trend in the Midwest — with varying degrees of success — as more entrepreneurs worldwide experiment with indoor growing systems in attempts to grow more food locally.
Now one facility, FarmedHere LLC in suburban Chicago, is attempting to take indoor warehouse farming to the "mega farm" level, in a region of the country known more for its massive hog, corn and soybean farms than for crops of boutique greens.
Here's a run-down on the trend, this farm — and the challenges it and other indoor farms face.
WHAT ARE THESE FARMS LIKE?
In Chicago, Milwaukee and other urban areas, entrepreneurs have taken up residence in vacant buildings that have high ceilings and plenty of space. Often, these are called "vertical" farms because, within the buildings, farmers build tall structures with several levels of growing beds, often lined with artificial lights. With so much vacant space available, the cost of the property is often cheap, to buy or rent, though the power needed to run these facilities often is not.
Elsewhere, growers are incorporating greenhouses and natural light into their models — sometimes on rooftops, or in large fields.
Though farmers are experimenting with all kinds of crops, most have had success growing greens — herbs, various types of lettuce and "microgreens," edible plants, such as beets and sunflowers, which are harvested when they are young and used like sprouts in salads and sandwiches.
"Aquaponic" farms, which also raise tilapia and other fish, use water circulated to the plants that is fertilized with the fish excrement. Often, these farms also sell the fish to grocers or restaurants.
HOW IS FARMEDHERE DIFFERENT?
"It's different here than I've seen anywhere else, just the size, the sheer scale of it is very unique," says Maximino Gonzalez, the master grower at FarmedHere LLC.