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