See Where One Million Pounds Of Salad Leaves Will Grow Without Dirt

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FarmedHere

FarmedHere’s CEO Jolanta Hardej runs the nation’s largest indoor vertical farm, which had its grand opening in Chicago this week. It’s an unlikely move for Hardej, whose only experience working in agriculture was tending to her grandmother’s farm in Europe as a child.

The interior designer-turned-mortgage broker spent 15 years as a mortgage broker until the financial collapse of 2008: “My world crashed,” she says.

Hardej started reading books and attending seminars on vertical farming, a kind of urban farming that saves space by growing crops in flat beds stacked on top of each other, typically inside tall buildings.

A $100,000 loan from Whole Foods helped Hardej get her own vertical farm off the ground. The plants in her farm grow without soil, instead using water mineral-rich water that comes from from tanks filled with tilapia fish.

FarmedHere currently grows various types of basil and arugala, but has plans to experiement with other vegetables in the future. 

All of the growing is done inside a 90,000 square foot formerly abandoned Chicago warehouse. Because the plants are stacked on top of each other, there is actually 140,000 square feet of farming space.

To start the process, seeds, like the basil ones shown here, are first placed into small baskets made of coconut shells.

The seeds germinate under energy-efficient compact-fluorescent lights. Even though the lights run continuously, they only account for 18 per cent of the facility's overall costs.

The plants are transferred to a vertical grow system that consists of five to six layers of plant beds stacked on top of each other. Each plant bed has its own overhead artificial lighting system.

The roots of the plants are completely submerged in water. Each plant is held in place by a foam float.

The water comes from big tanks that contain tilapia fish. The fish are fed organic feed. Their waste makes the water rich with nutrients, which the plants use to grow. The water that the plants use is eventually cycled back to the tanks. The hormone-free fish will be sold once they are full-grown.

FarmedHere grows various types of basil, including Thai, lemon, and Genovese. They also grow arugula and some other leafy greens.

FarmedHere's CEO Jolanta Hardej, shown here, says you can pretty much grow any vegetable using the aquaponic method, with the exception of potatoes.

She isn't sure which vegetable she will grow next, but may try tomatoes or beets.

Hardej projects her company will be producing 300,000 pounds of leafy greens by the end of the year, and more than triple that production by the end of 2014.

FarmedHere tries to sell their basil and leafy greens to stores that are within 25 miles of the facility to maintain their promise of providing locally-grown food.

You'll be eating lots of leafy greens on the FastDiet.

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