Vertical farming brings high-tech approach to metropolitan agriculture

CHICAGO (WLS) -- You could call it farming for the future.

A local entrepreneur has a high-tech take on agriculture that could change what ends up on our plates.

"We're doing for farming what Henry Ford did for the automobile," said entrepreneur Jake Counne.

Counne has found a way to grow produce locally, even when it's below 50 outside. He said the answer is using cameras, software and a conveyor belt in what's called a vertical farm.

"I came across vertical farming and I was just enamored with the ability to exponentially out produce the natural ability of that land," said Counne, who is the founder and CEO of Backyard Fresh Farms.

Six types of lettuce are stacked on a four level tower under the glow of purple LED lights in his Back of the Yards facility.

The farm produces three tons of greens in one year's time, which is what a farmer could do with Soldier Field but in just four parking spaces.

Counne's vertical farm reduces costs of energy, labor, and his produce has proven to last weeks.

"We've already beat the cost of a field farmed equivalent products," Counne said.

An automatic lift collects trays of ready plants and brings them to an assembly line of workers for harvest. It has reduced labor by 80% compared to the first vertical farms of its kind.

"We are quite literally building an assembly line of greens," Counne said.

Counne has nine patents pending that are helping him create the perfect environment for a plant every day of its life.

"The software here is looking to try to figure out what the optimal amount of light. It's also looking for early signs of stress in the new growth," said Counne.

Some of the cities high end restaurants are already using Counne's produce and when put to the taste test, it's clear this is not your average lettuce.

Counne's plan is to expand and open 100,000 square foot facilities near every major metropolitan area around the country.
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