Wisconsin’s largest indoor farm soon will operate in Ripon. Ernessi Farms has come a long way since its 2013 origins as a small hydroponic garden in business owner Bryan Ernst’s basement. The business is continuing to blossom downtown and will be moving operations to a new location in the coming weeks, which, when fully operational, will be the biggest vertical farm in the state.
Ernessi Farms is finalizing the transformation of the former Market Fresh Foods building at 111 East Fond du Lac St. into an indoor farm in the heart of Ripon’s historic downtown. The move and building renovation were made possible by a Community Development Investment (CDI) Grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.
Ernst and his staff recently began transplanting seedlings into a new robotic system and are expecting their first harvest at the new location in about five weeks. In approximately two weeks, Ernst says employees will work primarily in the facility on East Fond du Lac Street, rather than Ernessi Farms’ location in the basement of 325 Watson St., which eventually will be closed.
“As soon as we are able to be here full time, we’ll start a slow transition where we’re breaking the racks down and sterilizing everything before we bring it over here,” Ernst said. “Once everything’s out of that building, we will be done in that location; [111 East Fond du Lac St.] will just be our only location.”
Years before operating a farm in the heart of downtown Ripon, Ernst’s passion for hydroponic and vertical farming originated during his time in the Marines. “When you’re deployed to a lot of impoverished areas around the world, you see how hard of a time people have getting access to clean water and food,” Ernst said. “That really got me thinking, ‘There’s got to be a better way to grow food closer to urban centers, where we’re not transporting it cross country, and you can grow year-round.’”
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