Scientist farms in 'concept lab' with water-based mixture

June 3, 2011 (CHICAGO)

Urbanponics,, is a new company. Its founders want to create jobs, contribute to economic development and provide produce that's local, organic and sustainably grown.

"Because I come from an engineering background and an engineering perspective, I want to grow a high-quality product not kind of from luck. I want to control the product from front to back," Bral Spight said.

Spight and his staff are growing a wide variety of produce -- including dill, tomatoes and even cucumbers. But they are not using traditional growing methods. They are implementing a process called hydroponics. The plants are rooted in a water-based mixture rather than soil. Spight calls this his concept lab.

"We look at exactly that the plants need. We exclude everything that plant doesn't need, namely pests, pesticides and other things that might be harmful to people and then we use a sustainable technology to confine the plant so we can do that year-round," Spight said.

Spight's goal is to provide high-quality food that's local and organically grown while providing jobs to a challenged population. With the exception of his father, all of his employees were formerly incarcerated and hired through the North Lawndale Employment Network (NLN),

"It was a new start for me, which is what I did need being laid off for three years and it is a big help to me as I go. I'm learning new skills and meeting new people and building on who I am," Dorine Poole said. Spight believes his business model is one that other entrepreneurs should adopt to improve the economic outlook for everyone in the region.

"We have to figure out ways to provide manufacturing or manufacturing-like jobs for those who are semi-skilled and do it in an intelligent way that gives us other positive benefits. That's why I preach sustainability. That's why I preach agriculture. That's why I preach it here in Chicago," Spight said.

Urbanponics is hosting an open house on Wednesday, June 15th from 5 to 8 p.m. It's free and open to public. Details are available at and

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