Picture a farm. Golden fields stretching on for miles through the Midwestern plains, right?
Not this new farm on Indy's Near Eastside. There is no soil being tilled, but Jim Bloom assures that "it looks a whole lot more like a farm inside."
He's actually already inside, inside a dark and damp old factory warehouse. What Bloom, project manager for Sustainable Local Foods, means is inside the greenhouses they’re building within the warehouse.
"Right now it’s taking an old building where we basically create an indoor farm in here and create a sustainable environment for plants on a year-round basis," he said on a recent tour.
Step inside the temporary greenhouse made of 2-by-4s and plastic sheeting and rows of dark green basil plants sit atop a trellis of plastic pipes and bask in the glow of LED lights. Regulating the balmy 70-degree temperature over the winter has been an early challenge for the growers.
That will be easier once more permanent grow houses are up. The building is undergoing a $1.2 million renovation that was announced by city officials last July. Community development grants are paying for much of that. Bloom hopes to be fully operational by the end of this summer.
Video by Travis Gilmour and Slavik Boyechko
Still, these are some well-pampered plants. Constantly under ideal growing conditions, Sustainable Local Foods will eventually be able to grow the same amount of produce as a 15 acre farm, in just 30,000 square feet; all just a few miles from downtown.
Dense hydroponic operations like this have been pegged as a possible more efficient and reliable source food in the future as population grows and urbanizes.
The bright LEDs provide constant light to the plants. And a steady recirculating flow of nutrient-full water keeps plants well fed.
"The water goes in the channel, through those little emitter tubes, and it flows at a slight grade past all the roots of the plants in the channel and into the drain and right back into the reservoir, " Grower Mitch Roper explains.
Bloom says optimal growing condition means they’re able to get maximum flavor out of their greens. "So actually the flavor in hydroponics, if it’s done well and right, can be better or stronger."
The modest harvest of greens arrives at local markets like Pogue Run and the Patachou Foundation within just a day of being plucked, mainly by workers who hail from the neighborhood.