US: “Food and farming are the two biggest industries in the world and they’re closely related”

After more than a decade in the corporate food space, Glenn Ford left to mentor entrepreneurs. Now an entrepreneur himself, he’s looking to disrupt the very industry in which he built his career—by developing $238 million’s worth of aquaponic farms.

He recently got the bonding—$238 million’s worth—to develop a string of aquaponic farms in seven different areas across the Midwest, which would instantly make him, at the age of 66, one of the biggest players in an industry that’s been the next big thing in carbon-neutral farming for years. Minnesota will host one of these 25-acre sites. Each of them will incorporate high-tech LED lighting and a water circulation system that will produce 38 million pounds of produce and 750,000 pounds of fish annually, all while employing 130 people at sites that run around the clock. Ford says he will gladly consider himself a farmer as soon as the first facility comes online, even while conceding the title might seem like a stretch coming from somebody who’s never even been much of a gardener.

Ford grew up as a self-described “jock/nerd” on the South Side of Chicago—a student-athlete who went from taking care of a gym for his Catholic Youth Organization to starring in a bigger one as a Division II basketball player at Eastern Illinois before getting his master’s in business management at Northwestern. After that, he worked his way through the ranks of the corporate food industry until he wound up in Minneapolis. “Food and farming are the two biggest industries in the world,” he says, “and they’re closely related.”

Ford says 50 percent of Americans have worked in the food industry by the time they’re 30, whether as a busser or a line cook or a delivery truck driver or a farmhand. And by the time he was in his mid-40s, he had been privy to the power of the food industry at its highest levels—seeing its influence on almost every aspect of society, from global warming to food deserts to wage disparity in both inner-city and rural communities. And he realized, as close as he was to the food industry’s levers of power, he wasn’t in a position where he could have the kind of profound impact that could actually make a difference. So he gave up the Porsche and the house on the big lot in Medina and the unhappy marriage and endeavored to build something that was his own.

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