Home-grown farm becomes commercial supplier

January 27, 2012 3:37:13 PM PST
A storefront in the Englewood neighborhood doubles as a test lab for new equipment, new seeding methods and new opportunities to grow food in an aeroponic system. It is where a local business is developing new methods of growing "green."

Jolanta Hardej owns a small vertical farm in the Englewood neighborhood that has come a long way. He believes the name says it all: Farmed Here.

"Right now we sell to over 20 grocery stores in the Chicago metropolitan area," Hardej said. "We do not pollute because we do not drive our produce 1200 miles. We deliver within 48 hours of harvest."

"The roots are sprayed with water from nutrients that comes from fish and our water savings are tremendous. We use about 10 percent of the water that normal, regular, traditional agriculture is using."

About a hundred miles away in downstate Flanagan, Farmed Here uses a hydroponic system to grow a greater expanse of herbs. These 2500-gallon tanks each hold about a thousand tilapia. Frank Tooley mans the farm.

"The fish nutrients go into the water system," Tooley said. "The plants take the nutrients and circulate it back into the fish to get more nutrients. It's a continuous cycle."

The process marks a new era in what is now available on store shelves.

"We are the first and the only USDA organic certified commercial aquaponic farm in the United States," Hardej said. "We were the first indoor farm in the Chicago-area to receive a license to grow fresh fish for the purpose of indoor farming. Ninety-seven percent savings of freshwater, no fertilizers, no chemicals, no pesticides, no herbicides are being used. Plants grow in controlled perfect environment, perfect temperature, perfect humidity, perfect lighting."

Farmed Here is planning to open a 90,000-square-foot vertical farm in southwest suburban Bedford Park this summer to expand it supply. The company expects to create about 200 jobs.