We are proud to be starting to deliver product to the market. Here are some pictures of what’s currently growing at the farm and what we are delivering to our clients…
Yes, you read that right!
Last Friday, December 28th, 2012, the Chicago Department of Public Health came out to do a licensing inspection. We passed and can proudly say that Greens & Gills, LLC is the FIRST licensed aquaponic farm in the city of Chicago. It took a lot of hard work, but in the end we think it will all pay dividends.
We are now legally allowed to sell our produce and fish to restaurants, grocers, and at farmer’s markets. Look for us in your neighborhood in 2013…
Along with our main website, we have a Facebook Fan Page that we created and will continue to modify over the coming weeks. You can find us here – Follow G&G on Facebook
We’d love for you to become “fans” of Greens & Gills and follow us via Facebook as well. Thanks for all of your support!
Another new development – we have started to grow micro greens in our micro green system. This is a 6-tiered hydroponic system that will eventually utilize our matured aquaponic water for growing the micros. The beautiful part about micro greens is that you are harvesting them so young that there is no need to fertilize the plants. Therefore, we are using our carbon-filtered water that is pH-adjusted, and are seeing great results thus far. We started with a variety from some older seeds I had, but plan to focus in on 2-3 varieties, so we can ensure a consistent supply to our restaurants and retail customers. Some of the micros we grew in our first run include: arugula, pac choi, red cabbage, two mustard varieties, lemon basil, opal basil, cinnamon basil, and some more.
It’s been a long time coming, but we finally have Tilapia fingerlings in our nursery system. We have had them over two weeks now, and they seem to be doing quite well! They are feeding like crazy! Here is a short video of us introducing some fingerlings from their shipment bag into the nursery (note – it is essential to properly acclimate the fish to your system water temperature and chemistry prior to full introduction into the system. Improper acclimation can cause extreme stress and in some cases, mortality.)
About a week ago, we had a visit from our aquaponics consultants, Rebecca Nelson and John Pade of Nelson and Pade, Inc. They also brought along Craig Bach, their new VP of Finance. If I haven’t said it before, I will say it again – Nelson and Pade are hydroponic and aquaponic industry experts. They design and sell the industry’s most advanced, science-backed aquaponic systems on the market, and we have had a working relationship for over two years now. We are excited to work with them on Greens & Gills Chicago and only hope to continue cultivating a professional and personal relationship with them as we scale our company in Chicago and replicate our model into other urban markets.
The Team was able to see our farm space at The Plant and go over our installation. Seems as though we did a good job! The only minor tweak we have to make it raising the pipe that exits Mineralization Tank #2 and dumps water into the Degassing Tank (so that is is level with the pvc pipe leaving the Bio-Reactor that dumps water into the Degassing Tank) – simple enough! Their system looks fantastic in our space, and we are beyond excited to germinate our first series of seeds (to grow in our micro green system) and stock our Fish Nursery with Tilapia fingerlings. Thanks for coming to see us, Team Nelson and Pade!
As the title of the post suggests, team Greens & Gills has been hard at work building and installing all of our growing systems. Before I start posting all of the pictures, I want to take you back over the last number of months…
As you may have read in the previous blog post, we made a decision to scale back and lease space at The Plant. Over the last month or so, we’ve been installing systems, but it took us what seemed like forever to get to that point. To make a very long story short, we had major red tape thrown up at us. All for-profit urban farms did. Urban farming was so new to the City of Chicago that nobody knew exactly which category of Business License we should fall under and also what sort of regulation/inspection should come with said license. Some farms here decided to sit back and wait to see what the city decided. We took a more forward approach and hired an attorney and expert in food regulation and compliance to help mitigate these bureaucratic waters. Together we wrote the different public health authorities the city was deferring risk to – the USDA, FDA and Illinois Department of Public Health – asking for their guidance. I had conversations with city officials to help them better understand aquaponics – going so far as to write up a Description of Business Activity. In this document, I took the reader from seed and fingerling all the way through our daily operation until the time we harvest plants and fish and deliver them to our wholesale customers. I made sure to include important *Notes* at the end of the document that could help officials better understand our aquaponic systems and operations. For example, I made it clear that the systems are stand-alone. They are never directly connected to the building water, so there is absolutely ZERO back flow risk. I made sure to highlight the fact that fish are cold-blooded animals and ONLY warm-blooded animal manure carries food-born pathogens such as E.coli and Salmonella. The idea was to think about what different worries the city may have had (i.e. public health concerns – water with fish waste somehow contaminating the city potable water supply, the food we grow somehow getting someone sick, etc.). The Document succeeded in both educating officials about how aquaponic farming works and also alleviating officials’ concerns about the safety of aquaponic food production (after all, it’s safer than growing in the fields!). Mission Accomplished!
Eventually I took part in a conference call with all the major Chicago Bureaucrats, and we hashed through – which licensing category we would fall under and what the Dept. of Public Health was going to require of us in order to get inspected and approved. After over 3 months, it was determined that urban aquaponic farms would fall under the Wholesale Food Establishment Business License and that we would need a “packing area” that had: a 3-basin stainless steel sink (for sanitizing equipment/utensils and also to wash our produce in), a hand-washing sink (for sanitizing our hands) and lastly, a stainless steel table for packaging our product. Fair enough. We already had all of this in our plans. Bottom line, we want to be responsible food producers! It does us no good in creating a food production model and culture in local markets that doesn’t emphasize food safety as part of the mission.
Fast forward 3+ months, and our Nelson & Pade system was delivered, and we’ve been hard at work installing everything. We have been approved for both our Aquaculture Permit and our Fish Import Permit, and we are going to have our friend, Tim, from the Illinois Dept. of Public Health come out to inspect any day now. We are so close…I can almost taste the arugula. Meh, bad joke. Without further adieu, here are some pictures that take you through install…
Thanks to everyone who has been following along this whole time. Soon this blog will be developed into a more “normal” website, but we always plan to maintain a blog. In fact, we hope to have local chefs, food bloggers and the like contribute to our blog as guest bloggers each week. Stay tuned!
Hello Friends – The last 12 months have been eventful, to say the least. Soon, we will be developing this into a more refined site for the company. My business partner, Eric Roth, and I officially made the move to Chicago, and we reside in Bucktown. Not even a week has passed, and we’ve managed to take a little culinary tour of the Bucktown/Wicker Park area. From hole-in-the-wall to fine dining, we have tasted amazing, authentic cuisine. I could take you on a whimsical tale of our exploration, but I digress. If you are reading this, it clearly isn’t for a Dear Diary of my food escapades. You want to hear about Greens & Gills. So, without further adieu…
Major Decision #1 - Scale back the plans
After trying to raise nearly $1.5million to start big, we only secured $600,000. Most of this commitment came directly from family and friends. We faced a fork in the road: Either we venture out to the next tier of investor (people we don’t know) and sacrifice more of the company than we prefer, or we find a way to start with what we have. We went one step further, and asked our family/friends to kindly hold on to their money for a little while. We have invested our own money into starting on a small scale. Initially, we plan to sell direct to restaurants (20-30) and some direct-to-consumer at farmer’s markets. “Why scale back so far…why not at least take the $600,00 and scale the start up to the capital,” you may ask?
First of all, I take people investing their hard-earned money in me very seriously. I’m not in the business of experimenting with the money of people I care about and love. Instead, I’d rather use money in our own piggy bank to back a proof-of-concept. Over the next year, Eric and I will attempt to bear out any assumption in the business model – from price-point for our product at both the wholesale and retail level to the volume (per square foot, per year, etc) our systems can produce of the different crops we plan to grow. Paralleling this, we will begin working on packaging solutions, marketing, branding and potential growth solutions/platforms. The goal: start growing, market and sell ALL our product through, establish the marketplace, assess the marketplace for growth, and hopefully determine the best model for scaling production up.
With that said, we found an amazing location to start and launch the company…
Major Decision #2 – Grow in an indoor space at The Plant (www.plantchicago.com)
Greenhouses no longer remained an option. It was imperative that we find a low cost solution to get started. We heard of a unique development on the South Side of Chicago known as The Plant. The Director, John Edel, envisioned taking over an old food production building in the Back of the Yards of Chicago (the old Stockyards) and developing it into a mixed-use vertical farm/food business incubator.
As you can see in the image, there will be a host of tenants in the building – a few farming ventures (US!!), a beer brewery, a Kombucha tea brewery, bakeries, a mushroom farmer, commercial kitchens and professional offices and meeting space for starting food businesses, and more. The project puts an emphasis in using this development as a model for promoting urban agriculture and the cultivation of local food businesses through education and tourism. Furthermore, John received grant money from the city of Chicago to take this whole development off-grid!…
Greenhouse and outdoor food production dominate the industry for one main reason – the sun. When growing indoors, roughly 3 times as many grow lights are needed compared with the supplemental lighting used for high-volume production in controlled environment greenhouses. The economics simply don’t make sense. Furthermore, a building must be retrofit to provide the right growing conditions in a place that wasn’t meant to grow plants commercially. Plumbing, electric, ventilation, air circulation, CO2, and all of the other factors must be accounted for and taken care of in order for prosperous plant production.
In enter the turbine generator and anaerobic digester. The jet engine of a 747 will run 500kw of electrical load to the building – more than enough to cover the whole building. In fact, there will be extra electricity created that John plans on selling back to the utility company. Steam from the turbine will provide the heating and cooling for the building. To start, natural gas will power the turbine. Natural gas is cheaper and cleaner than the fossil fuels used to power the grid. Great. This Fall, an anaerobic digester comes to the site and comes online. Waste product from the food businesses in the building along with waste from major food businesses around the city will feed the anaerobic digester (over 32 tons a day…wow). The digester turns all of this food waste into both liquid and solid fertilizer through the breakdown of the waste by beneficial bacteria. Not only will this fertilizer be sold to a major garden industry supplier by John, but the “waste” bio gas that the digestion process creates will then power the turbine. Finally, we reach Net Zero Utilities for the whole development. Pretty amazing stuff.
Where We Stand
We decided to rent 3,200sf of space in the basement level of the building. The last two months, John and his team did a build out of an office and a double-door entry into the grow space (for keeping bugs out of the grow space). The past week, we spent time sealing off the space with caulk, power washing the ceiling, walls and floors and have started installing our micro green/baby green system. Here are some pictures to give you an idea of how things started, and what they look like now:
As you can see, things have come a long way. We have office furniture and storage in place, so we have now moved on to system installation. Our main aquaponic system arrives at the end of this week or beginning of next week. This system will be primarily used for growing full heads of lettuce varieties and herbs. We also have a 6-tier hydroponic micro green/baby green system that we will be growing a variety of micro greens in as well as baby lettuces and arugula. We’ve started assembling this system…
We are waiting to get our lights to install under each tier. Once the lighting is in place, we will finish up the plumbing and finally start growing! As you can see, the system is pitched slightly, so the water runs from one end down the other. There are 24 (13′x9″) food-grade PVC channels. Each channel will be lined with burlap as the growing medium. Seeds are laid onto the burlap, and a steady, small stream of water constantly runs down the grow channel. I will be sure to update with another post with more pictures once we have the lighting and plumbing all installed.
Thanks for following.
Team Greens & Gills
Friends of G&G,
Check out Michael Silberman’s documentary project highlighting the The Plant Chicago entitled “A Sustainable Reality: Redefining Roots.” Stay tuned as the documentary will include the coming to market of Greens and Gills!