US (WI): Sparkling diamond grows in inner city

In the heart of Milwaukee, houses form rows, street after street. Along railroad tracks, buildings stand, some vacant. Cars and trucks whiz past on their way to other places. Pavement, street lights, and signs stand where – until the past couple of hundred years – nature flourished. Along North 31st Street, a well-maintained building looks similar to others. But what is inside the building is completely unexpected; it’s an idea like a fine diamond. Step inside, and living green catches the eye. Bright warm light comes from a room filled with high shelves. The shelves are full of beautiful, healthy plants. Hidden in plain sight along North 31st Street is a unique urban farm that is solving problems and creating opportunities.
Hundred Acre is the work of Chris Corkery. On a cold December morning, as a strong wind whipped off Lake Michigan, Corkery paused for a moment from that work. “The Hundred Acre Farm is the first of its kind,” he said. “It is a prototype (designed) by my organization. It’s a ground-up design. We brought together technology and infrastructure to create our own method of growing. It incorporates a controlled environment with vertical hydroponics.”

Hydroponics has been used to produce crops for decades. But the system of vertical inner-city farms envisioned by Corkery is a new opportunity for Milwaukee. “When a farm like ours is compared to a traditional soil-based farm, here in central Milwaukee, we run about 32 times more efficiently, and we produce 3,200 percent more crops (in a similar space.) The reason is simple. We grow indoors vertically in cubic feet, not square feet (as in a field). We go five layers high. So we have a square foot (then on the ground) times five. So for us, vertical farming is five times more productive. Because we are creating conditions indoors, the plants grow three times more quickly. The types of lettuce we grow take about 12 weeks outdoors exposed to Mother Nature. At Hundred Acre, it takes about four weeks (to be market-ready).


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