Farm-to-table is alive in Chicago, even now, in the cold, dark depths of winter.
Using hydroponics, an agricultural method in which plants grow in water instead of soil, Brooklyn-based Gotham Greens supplies produce like basil, romaine, and kale to such high-end destinations as Whole Foods and the Gibson’s Restaurant Group. It expects to grow 10 million heads of greens this year.
Gotham Greens’s 75,000-square-foot facility opened in November on top of an eco-friendly Method Products soap factory that itself opened the previous April. (According to Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) and David Doig of Community Neighborhood Initiatives, the factory and greenhouse were funded by $8 million in tax-increment financing and $40 million of private investment, including $8 million from Gotham Greens.)
This isn’t the only indoor grower near Chicago. Urban Till has operated on the Far West Side since 2011 and plans to add two locations on the West Coast this year. Meanwhile, FarmedHere, which is nearly 15,000 square feet larger than Gotham Greens, opened its Bedford Park facility in 2013 and now sells to more than 200 retailers.
Gotham Greens CEO Viraj Puri says commercial urban gardening has grown out of consumer demand for higher quality produce, especially during the winter months.
“Over 50 percent of the food we grow in the U.S. is thrown away," he says, "and a lot of that is because of the long distance shipping of the product."
Bridgeport’s Nana is one of a handful of restaurants using Puri’s produce this winter. “The flavor of their products is unparalleled especially during the winter,” says chef Jeremy Kiens. “I'm looking forward to their arugula during these cold winter months.”