Leafy greens typically don’t get kids excited. So Jake Counne knew he’d grown something special in his indoor vertical farm when his children, aged 5 and 7, were snacking on fresh spinach “like it was a bag of chips.”
Other, more refined palates also have been impressed by Counne’s spicy wasabi arugula, tart red sorrel and horseradish-tinged red mizuna — all grown under the purple glow of LED lights in a windowless room in Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood.
“The flavors coming out of these leaves were unbelievable," said Steve Lombardo III, chairman of Gibsons Restaurant Group, one of Counne’s first customers. "We were talking about them like we were talking about fine wines.”
Counne, a real estate investor before his interest turned to agriculture, is launching Backyard Fresh Farms during a period of heightened consumer and investor interest in produce grown locally in controlled environments that are less subject to contamination, waste and unpredictable weather.
High costs have killed similar ventures attempted in Chicago. But as he prepares for a significant expansion to bring his greens into stores, Counne said he believes his hydroponic farm has the technology to succeed where others have failed to make large-scale indoor vertical farming a profitable business.