A large space in Chicago that formerly housed a Target but has been sitting empty for five years will get a new life growing greens, thanks to a vertical farming company. The Chicago Tribune reported this week that Wilder Fields will turn the 135,000-square-foot space into a vertical farm that grows kale and other leafy greens in the Calumet City area of south Chicago.
Once completed, the facility will house seven acres of vertical farm housed in 24 separate cleanrooms, and produce 25 million heads of lettuce annually that can supply local grocer stores. The site will also include a retail spot and education center where local residents and others can learn how vertical farming works.
In the case of Wilder Fields, its vertical farming works with quite a lot of technology. In addition to the controlled environment that regulates light, humidity, temperature, and other factors that help crop growth, company founder Jake Counne has also introduced robotics to the mix. Instead of human workers having to scale the massive towers of grow trays, an automated lift collects the plants. Robotics in vertical farming isn’t completely unheard of (see Iron Ox’s autonomous vertical farm), but it’s still the exception at this point, which makes Wilder Fields one to watch. The company’s new farm will also use cameras and AI software to regulate the grow environment, so it can automatically adjust the aforementioned light, temperature, etc.
The farm’s location is significant. Parts of the Calumet area are considered a food desert. While the USDA’s definition around food desert mostly relates to a population’s proximity to the grocery store, others include access to affordable, healthy food as part of the description.
Of course, it’s one thing to locate a vertical farm in a food dessert. It’s another to actually sell the products near residents, at a price point they can reasonably afford. The Tribune notes that Wilder Fields’ greens sell for $2.99 to $3.99 per pack. The retail store that will accompany the facility will also provide an outlet for local residents to purchase greens. The facility will also create about 80 new jobs.