Vertical farm brings glow to Portage
By James D. Wolf Jr. Post-Tribune correspondent May 11, 2014 9:20PM
Basil plants sit under the custom spectrum blue and red LED Phillips lights in the vertical greenhouse in Portage on May 9, 2014. | Jim Karczewski/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 13, 2014 6:03AM
PORTAGE -- The future of farming is up -- straight up, about 27 feet.
It’s also enclosed, happening inside a warehouse in Portage’s Ameriplex business park, and it’s sustainable, free of genetically modified organisms, pesticide and herbicide.
Green Sense Farms showed off its style of growing crops indoors, using red and blue LCD lights and vertical farming where the plants grow in tiers in an open house.
“We’ve experimented, we’re ready to explode,” Green Sense President Robert Colangelo said.
Green Sense already had its sixth harvest by Friday’s ribbon cutting and has been selling lettuces, leafy greens and herbs to Strack and Van Til and Whole Foods grocery stores.
With the two growth rooms, Green Sense now produces 100 cases of produce a week with a capacity of 1,000 cases a week and room to grow.
The idea behind it grew out of Colangelo’s background.
A hydrogeologist who’s worked in the environmental field for years, cleaning up contaminated water and land, he began doing sustainability workshops and then “Green Sense,” a syndicated radio show.
The topic of food kept coming up in the workshops and on the show, he said.
It took four years of research and development, but now Portage has the largest commercial indoor vertical farm, Colangelo said.
Green Sense worked with Philips Lighting to get the right type of lighting for the best combination of LED lights to produce natural lighting, although the growing rooms have a pink-magenta glow from towers of plants under red and blue LEDs.
“Because plants are green themselves, they use it less efficiently. We left it out,” said Gus van der Feltz, Philips Global Director for City Farming Horticulture Solutions.
Although Philips had seven years of research already, Green Sense was one of its larger projects as it worked to custom fit the farm’s needs.
“This trend is something we’re keen to be part of,” van der Feltz said.
Tillable land is reaching its peak, and Philips wants partners to address the needs, said Beate Walles, Global Marketing Director for Horticulture LED Solutions.
Colangelo said it could augment field farming, which is usually protein grains, and produce consistent supplies at consistent prices.
The crops are limited to green leafy plants because they grow best in this environment, and plants are germinated in coconut core two days, in a nursery 15 days and ready to harvest after 15 more days.
“Two years from now, we’re going to be growing a lot more than today because everyday we’re learning,” Colangelo said.
Green Sense will expand in the Midwest, and Colangelo and CFO Carl Wenz have also been talking to colleges, military bases and hospitals to put similar farming operations in these heavily populated areas.