Most people saw an abandoned intercity parking lot. Benjamin Kant saw opportunity.
“When I got to it, it was a barren city block with rusted-out fences,” he says.
Kant is describing the location of his entrepreneurial endeavor – Metropolitan Farms – which opened for business in October 2015. During the past four years, Kant and colleagues built up the site to house 10,300 square feet worth of greenhouses and aquaculture facilities that grow a mix of romaine, basil, tilapia and other crops in the heart of Chicago.
Kant calls aquaponic farming a “healthier, more secure and environmentally sustainable food system.” Tilapia is a good low-risk species for getting started, he says – they are relatively hardy and are sociable enough to co-exist safely in tanks. As a bonus, their waste can undergo nitrification and help feed the lettuce crops.
As Metropolitan Farms nears full capacity, it is able to produce around 92,000 heads of lettuce and 5,600 lbs of fish annually. Most of the goods never leave Chicago, delivered to local farmers markets, restaurants and grocers.
Ironically, the site of Metropolitan Farms was the home of a dairy a century ago. More recently, it was used as a parking lot for an ice cream distributor.
“We feel like it’s come full-circle,” Kant jokes.
Next, Kant is looking at expanding – and replicating his idea in other locations. There’s certainly no shortage of underutilized urban areas that could be repurposed into farms, he says.
“Franchising would be a fun idea,” he says. “It would give some autonomy but also a blueprint for success.”
Kant joins a growing number of urban farmers looking to find unique new homes for agriculture. By some accounts, urban agriculture provides up to 20% of the world’s food supply.
Visit www.metro-farms.com/ to learn more about Metropolitan Farms.