FarmedHere Brings Soil-Free Vertical Farming To Chicago

Tucked into an unassuming warehouse in suburban Chicago is a 90,000-square-foot aquaponic vertical farm. Within the walls of FarmedHere grow basil, arugula, salad mixes, herbs and much more.

FarmedHere’s aquaponic and aeroponic farming systems deliver water and nutrients to the plants from tanks of hormone-free tilapia – reusing 97 percent of the fresh water consumed in the process.

FarmedHere then delivers its products to local Chicago stores and restaurants, reducing their carbon footprints by eliminating long-distance transportation.

Modern Midwest spoke with FarmedHere CEO Jolanta Hardej, a trained interior designer, about the impact of her business on Chicago’s food industry.


What inspired you to start FarmedHere?

I was concerned about future of my children, with rising global population and decreasing viable farmland. Add the demand for local food production, the need to decrease fossil fuel consumption, increase sustainability and preserve water and the environment.

What is an indoor aquaponic vertical farm — and what makes it different from other types of farming?

Vertical farming is a unique, soil-free process that utilizes nutrient-rich water and vertically staked grow beds to guarantee the freshest produce in season. Instead of soil, water from tanks of hormone-free tilapia delivers nutrients to the plants through either aquaponic or aeroponics system. Since it’s grown indoors, our produce is safe from the diseases, pesticides and inclement water that impact most produce today.

Tell us more about your partnership with Windy City Harvest.  

FarmedHere became involved in Windy City Harvest in 2011 to help introduce urban aquaponics into their existing curriculum and create job placement opportunities for students.

Given that urban aquaponics is a growing industry and our experience in this field, it was a natural partnership. Looking ahead, FarmedHere is helping Windy City Harvest build an entirely separate certificate program just focused on urban aquaponics.

At the farm, our Windy City Harvest employees have a number of responsibilities, including caring for the tilapia and maintaining plant growth.  We also want to ensure that they continue to gain expertise and provide advancement opportunities – for example, they take courses toward state licenses in food safety and job safety, all paid for by FarmedHere.

How has your experience in interior design influenced your role running FarmedHere?

Interior designers improve interior spaces to meet the needs and preferences of those spaces’ inhabitants. FarmedHere’s mission is to improve people’s lives through fresher and healthier food consumption. They have similar goals.

What are some of your favorite places to eat in Chicago?

Prosecco Restaurant on Wells, Uncommon Ground, Piccolo Sogno.

What is the most rewarding part about running FarmedHere?

Providing Chicago consumers with chemical-free, tastier, fresher and more nutritious produce year ‘round.

Want to use FarmedHere’s products in a delicious recipe? Try the Basil Tapenade:

Basil Tapenade

3/4 cup black olives, pitted
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
3/4 cup basil leaves
1 tablespoon walnuts, optional
1/2 cup cappers, rinsed and drained
3 cloves garlic
1/4 cup dried currants or blueberries, optional
2/3 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Finely chop all ingredients and mix with olive oil and lemon juice in a bowl. Season with pepper. Serve as a spread with bread, on crostini with goat cheese, or as a dip for fresh veggies. This tapenade is also excellent served with potatoes and white fish.