A company that’s building commercial vertical farms specifically for organic aquaculture (fish production), is getting a loan from Whole Foods Market (Nasdaq:WFMI), one of its biggest customers.
FarmedHere’s indoor vertical farm, in Bedford Park, Illinois, is the first USDA Certified Organic aquaponic indoor farm.
And its the only company licensed by the state to grow fish indoors.
Whole Foods’ $100,000 loan will help the three-year-old company expand into a 90,000-square-foot building, providing the urban farm with another 150,000 square foot of vertical growing space and creating about 200 jobs.
The vertical farm also grows produce, which it’s been selling to Whole Foods stores in the Chicago area since 2011. The expansion will increase the supply of locally grown, organic herbs and vegetables to Whole Foods by about a million pounds a year.
The company also sells to grocery buyers, retailers and restaurants across Chicago.
FarmedHere’s produce is usually grown within 15 miles of customers, reducing the spoilage typically associated with shipping vegetables thousand of miles.
This third vertical farm uses two different systems that allow it to grow produce and fish in a controlled environment year-round.
An aquaponic system produces herbs such as basil and other greens, while grow tilapia fish at the same time. An aeroponic system cultivates leafy greens, such as arugula and watercress, in growing cycles of 18 days, compared with 60 days or more in conventional agriculture.
Both systems are extremely energy and water efficient, virtually eliminating water runoff and preserving over 97% of fresh water.
"The ingenuity of FarmedHere’s approach to growing produce will help shape the future of not only agriculture, but also urban planning," says Michael Bashaw, Whole Foods Market Midwest Regional President. "We’re thrilled to support a company whose inventiveness is pioneering the increase of food production and access to fresh, local foods in Chicago."
FarmedHere also runs Chicago’s first training program on city aquaponics in collaboration with Windy City Harvest.
Financing for the new facility comes from Whole Foods Market Local Producer Loan Program, which proves $10 million a year in low-interest loans to independent local farmers and food artisans.
FarmedHere isn’t the only vertical farm in the Chicago area. The Plant is an innovative closed-looped operation taking shape in an abandoned warehouse in the heart of the meat-packing district. The operation is already growing greens, mushrooms and kombucha. It should be fully operational by 2016.