Go behind the scenes: Urban farming

Slideshow: How do you grow lettuce and herbs in an abandoned parking lot? What is “hyper-local growing”? Here’s a look at two Chicago urban farming operations.

“Urban farming” covers a lot of practices and operations, including aquaponics, hydroponics, rooftop gardens, planter gardens and vacant-lot farming.  

Zack Grant, a local-food system and small-farm specialist with the University of Illinois, says urban farmers use intensive production practices to maximize small spaces. “Urban farming or agriculture is the growing, processing and distribution of food either within the city itself or just on city edges,” he says.

The local food movement sparked renewed interest in urban farming in the early 2000s, Grant adds, and there are educational opportunities for individuals who desire to learn about this growing industry. The University of Illinois offers a Master Urban Farming Training Program that covers business plans, site selection, composting, soil testing and integrated pest management through classroom and field experience.

Jen Rosenthal, Planted Chicago, received a certificate through the Chicago Botanical Garden’s Windy City Harvest Apprenticeship program, a nine-month classroom and hands-on training program that includes crop planning, food production, pest management and Good Agricultural Practices training. Rosenthal uses her training and experience to plan and implement “hyper-local” growing sites in Chicago.

Other urban farmers, like Benjamin Kant, Metropolitan Farms, Chicago, are self-taught. Kant learned from reading about and observing existing aquaponics facilities. Blueprints for aquaponics greenhouses are not readily available, he says, and greenhouse architects are not easy to source. His background is in finance, but he quickly learned about engineering, electricity and construction to design and help build his greenhouse and aquaponics system.

Aquaponics combines aquaculture, like raising fish in tanks, with hydroponics, or growing plants in water.

For a closer look at Metro Farm’s aquaponics system and Planted Chicago’s hyper-local growing, check out this slideshow.

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