Valpo's Green Farms almost ready to start taking produce orders

2012-02-23T13:45:00Z 2012-02-23T15:10:16Z Valpo's Green Farms almost ready to start taking produce ordersBy Bowdeya Tweh, (219) 933-3316

VALPARAISO | It has taken about two years for Green Farms Agronomics and Mycology LLC to lay the groundwork to build an indoor vertical farm and produce crops.

But now the Valparaiso-based business is a few weeks away from taking orders from buyers of naturally grown fruits and vegetables. It is also a few months away from producing on a full scale foods such as corn chutes and wheatgrass and finishing renovations of the structure housing the production area, said Eric Diamond, the company's director of public relations and client manager.

Green Farms is part of a momentum building in Northwest Indiana to boost food production locally, supporters say. Local food production advocate Sandra Rodriguez said growing healthy foods is important to improving the health and lives of region residents. Rodriguez, who is project manager for the proposed Stewart House Urban Farm and Gardens in Gary, said she looks forward to hearing about the company's plans.

"There are models out there that are revenue-generating that we as a community can invest in that can improve our food supply but make our communities more sustainable," Rodriguez said. "We're excited about what they're doing at Green Farms."

Ken Withrow, company founder and Valparaiso resident, said he developed the concept for Green Farms in 2010 out of an interest to provide better food for his family. After doing research on sustainable farming techniques in the last few years, five other people joined the company, people who share similar values and have expertise in a variety of areas, Diamond said. Withrow was a water reclamation specialist at NLMK Indiana in Portage.

"This is one way the six of us really (believe) we can make a difference," Diamond said.

Green Farms is developing a few different lines of its business simulatenously, said Kate Flannery, chief financial officer and communications director. While ramping up its food production business and becoming profitable are the company's main objectives, it also wants to support local education initiatives, provide excess food to community organizations and even deliver portable food-growing systems to areas with poor access to fresh foods.

Diamond said since mid-2011, Green Farms has provided samples of products such as red oak leaf lettuce to restaurants from its aquaponics system on the site south of Ind. 2 and Division Road.

With the system Green Farms is using, Diamond said it allows for multiple harvests of food without pesticides or fertilizer in a climate-controlled environment that maximizes production space. In the system, large quantities of tilapia are raised in 55-gallon drums of water. Water is then piped to the plants, which will feed on the water and nitrogen-laden fish waste as a suitable nutrient. The vegetables act as a filter to remove the byproduct from the water and make it safe to recirculate to the fish. Continuous monitoring and testing will be done to ensure the water quality is adequate for fish and plants can thrive.

Company officials see a time when restaurants and schools could custom-order product to be grown, view the growing process online with cameras inside growing area and ship products directly to buyers.

Withrow, Diamond and Flannery declined to provide details about the company's financial standing, but said Green Farms has adequate funding to pursue its next construction venture. The company's six employees share ownership of the firm.

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