Spring is definitely in the air in the Midwest, where temperatures are expected to climb well into the 60’s this weekend. But the mercury is still predicted to flirt with the freezing mark overnight, giving pause to any thoughts of early planting.
According to the Agriculture Department, planting typically begins in the heart of the Corn Belt around the 20th of April, and soybean planting, historically, gets underway two weeks later around the 5th of May.
Ideally, soil temperatures need to be above 50 degrees before planting begins in earnest, and many producers insist the ground must be at least 55 degrees before they’ll sow a single seed.
But even as farmers wait anxiously to get out in the fields, some urban growers think conditions are just fine inside.
Abandoned warehouses are getting new life all across the Midwest. One of the new experiments is known as vertical farming.
This suburban Chicago location is operated by farmedhere. The owners are trying to give new meaning to the term “megafarm” in the land of large-scale hog, corn and soybean operations.
The high ceilings and massive space allow for several levels of growing beds complete with artificial light.
The abundant supply of warehouses keeps real estate levels low. But that low expense is offset by the power bill. Right now, the farm has two large structures with several levels of growing beds.
Maximino Gonzalez, Master Grower, farmedhere “It is different than anything I’ve seen before. The scale of it is very unique. Just the sheer size of this place is amazing. We have plants five or six rows high, depending on the system, and it is about 160-180 feet long.”
The plants grow under fluorescent lighting. Company leadership has a goal of the facility being self-sustaining in a few years. Many believe indoor farms that rely on artificial light will become much more viable as energy-efficient LED lighting improves and becomes more affordable.
Operators here are having success in “boutique or micro greens” like herbs or lettuce. Edible plants like beets and sunflowers are harvested when they are young and are similar to sprouts in salads and sandwiches.
Maximino Gonzalez, Master Grower, farmedhere: “Once they get at a certain height from the germinating racks, we transplant them to our system, we let them grow a few weeks, maybe 2-4 weeks.”
Farmedhere is based in Bedford Park, Illinois and its operators are considering expansion to a 150,000 square foot growing space.
The owners claim it’s the largest vertical farm in the country, and it’s already supplying local grocery stores with fresh basil, arugula and other greens.
The company’s CEO calls it "on-demand farming."
Jolanta Hardej, CEO, farmedhere: "Let's say that the demand is suddenly for various types of arugula or various types of mixed greens, or mini greens," she says. "We could change the whole system ... and pretty much within the next 14 to 28 days, we have a full grown plant, whatever the market requires."