The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

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March 28, 2013

In a Chicago suburb, an indoor farm goes 'mega'

(Continued)

BEDFORD PARK, Ill. —

WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES?

The biggest stumbling block for facilities like these remains power — the amount of electricity to run the lights that help the plants grow. Heating these massive spaces also can be costly.

Experts in the field say this will also be a big challenge for FarmedHere, because of its size.

A few other indoor farms in Wisconsin and Chicago have gone out of business, or are struggling to stay open.

"It's hard to get there for sure," says Sylvia Bernstein, an aquaponics supplier based in Boulder, Colo., who blogs about the trend. "There are a lot of people working on it."

Some growers are experimenting with solar, wind and methane as ways to generate the power. Others are supplementing artificial light with natural greenhouse or window lighting.

Hardej says FarmedHere is looking at methane options. Though she declined to elaborate for competitive reasons, she said the eventual goal is for the facility to be self-sustaining.

Many believe indoor farms that rely on artificial light will become even more viable as energy-efficient LED lighting improves and becomes more affordable.

But Dickson Despommier, a retired Columbia University microbiologist who wrote the book "The Vertical Farm: Feeding the World in the 21st Century," says powering farms is still the biggest hurdle for the industry — one that many farmers are often reluctant to talk about publicly.

"A lot of them will tuck their head under their wings and say, 'Wait and see,'" he says, noting that he's anxious to see large indoor farming models in Japan that use both artificial and natural light. He says entrepreneurs in Germany also are experimenting with flickering lights that use less power but still emit enough light to grow plants.

"In another two or three years, this will shake out," Despommier says. "And we'll see which systems work, and which don't."

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