Tag Archives: Chicago farms

Recent PR

New Year, New Developments.  We want to thank Zagat and WCIU for the amazing stories they did on our farming business!  Below are the links to the features…

Zagat – http://www.zagat.com/b/chicago/Aquaponic-Farming-The-Garden-of-the-Future

WCIU “You & Me This Morning” – http://www.wciu.com/youandme.php?section=home&assets=videos&assetID=10012257

Harvest Time…

Today we harvested our third batch of Tilapia…and boy do they look healthy!  Take a look for yourself…



Tilapia 1-23-14-3








They average about 2.5 lbs, so we had about a 250lb harvest today.  Go to Nana Organic for a taste of some of our naturally-raised, local Tilapia!

More Basil, More Problems? Not Really.

The basil got harvested today to go out to restaurant clients of ours, so I thought I would take some pics early this morning before they came out of the system…If you notice Siena Tavern’s pasta sauce tasting even better than it already is (yes, hard to imagine!!), that’s because they are now using Greens & Gills’ fresh, local basil.  #hardtobeat


6 Week Old Basil
6 Week Old Basil


Look at those beauties!
Look at those beauties!


Harvesting some French Sorrel
Harvesting some French Sorrel




Basil Bonanza…

Our basil varieties are really taking off!  Take a look (sorry in advance about the lighting…the Metal Halides make the lighting look funky)…




Seedstock.com wrote a great piece on Greens & Gills!

In Search of Idea with Impact, Chicago Entrepreneur Settles on Indoor Urban Aquaponics

June 3, 2013 |

Greens & Gills, LLC Founder David Ellis comes from a long line of entrepreneurs. Both his father and grandfather were independent business owners and he knew he would eventually follow in their footsteps— once the right idea presented itself of course. In Ellis’ case, the right idea came in the form of an urban, indoor agriculture operation using aquaponics.

According to Ellis, inspiration struck when he read about a Milwaukee company converting a vacant industrial space into an indoor, urban farm that would cultivate and sell local, sustainably grown fish and vegetables to the Milwaukee market. He visited the operation and the metaphorical seeds of his new business, Greens & Gills, were sown.

Ellis was drawn to indoor, urban farming as a business model because it merged his entrepreneurial spirit with his desire to make a difference and his passion for science and food. In Ellis’ mind the importance of local food cannot be overstated both in regards to the goals of his business and the future of agriculture as a whole. “We believe that people deserve the best tasting, most nutritious food available to them, and local food production is the bottom line of delivering on that belief,” said Ellis.

Like many other sustainable agriculture entrepreneurs, Ellis focused intently on the ecological viability of his business model. From the outset, he and his two business partners knew they wanted their operation to be “cutting edge” and not just an indoor replica of traditional farming practices. “We are at a time where water, land and other natural resources as they relate to agriculture are becoming more and more scarce,” said Ellis, “That, coupled with the growing population of the world, made us realize that we wanted our agriculture business to somehow incorporate savings of these resources.”

aquaponic micro greens

Mild and spicy micro mix. Photo credit: Greens & Gills, LLC

Ellis and his partners decided on an indoor, aquaponic farming system instead of a purely hydroponic system because they wanted to reduce the need for manufactured fertilizers, which are required in hydroponic systems. Furthermore, since an aquaponic system is unable to handle both synthetic and organic forms of pesticides and herbicides, they adopted a pest management system that utilizes predatory bugs to prey on the bugs that are harmful to their crops.

Ellis and his partners were also drawn to the fact that an aquaponic system allowed them to produce two different by-products— fish and vegetables. Greens & Gills raises Tilapia, which is a very resilient fish and a popular choice in aquaponics. According to Ellis, Tilapia are able to withstand the fluctuations in water chemistry that occur during the initial nitrification cycle phase. “For a first time aquaponic farm, we felt it was important to use the easiest fish to raise and prevent catastrophe,” said Ellis.

The crops grown at Greens & Gills all fall into the “leafy greens” category. Specifically, they grow different types of lettuce, arugula, basil varieties, sorrel, kale, and micro greens. They chose to grow this type of crop because aquaponic water has high nitrogen content and these plants thrive in a nitrogen-rich environment. Ellis emphasizes the fact that, although it is possible to grow various types of crops in an aquaponic system, they wanted to start simply to ensure success. “We just thought it would be best to focus on one category and not over complicate things at first,” said Ellis. “The leafy greens have a much faster turnover rate, so the economic factor weighed in on that decision as well.”

In organizing the logistics of their aquaponic system, Ellis and his partners thought it was important not to “reinvent the wheel.” Instead, they opted for an “out of the box” aquaponic system through Nelson and Pade, Inc. They felt this was the safest approach for a start-up operation. “In creating a baseline business model, we felt ours would be less assumptive if we worked with systems that were proven and had numbers to back them,” said Ellis.

Despite taking this somewhat safer approach, they were still hesitant to accept money from investors until they had proven the viability of the system themselves. “We felt it important to invest our own capital into proving that the systems could grow the volume of product we were told they could grow before we ever thought about taking other peoples’ money and experimenting with vetting out those production numbers,” said Ellis.

After passing the Chicago Department of Public Health licensing inspection in December 2012, Greens & Gills became one of the first licensed aquaponic farms in the city of Chicago. Like most young start-ups, they are still in a growth phase as they gradually increase production to full capacity and take their product to market. “Our primary distribution channel is selling direct to restaurants, and we are also starting to talk to food distributors about purchasing our produce and delivering to their built-in client base,” said Ellis.

Like any other agricultural operation, Greens & Gills faces fairly typical challenges, particularly reducing the chance of crop failure and balancing an increase in production with the ability to sell everything they grow. That being said, Ellis is optimistic about the future of his aquaponic operation. “We believe the future is bright. Once we consistently market and sell through our full-capacity production at our current scale, we would like to look at serious scaling up of the model here in Chicago and replication to other urban markets.”

In Search of Idea with Impact, Chicago Entrepreneur Settles on Indoor Urban Aquaponics

A Visit from Nelson and Pade

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!

From L-R: John Pade, Rebecca Nelson, David Ellis (me), David Tobias

If You Build It, They Will Come

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!