Vertical Farming Venture Achieves Sustainability and Success in New Buffalo, Michigan
June 10, 2013 | Jenny Smiechowski
According to Green Spirit Farms‘ Research and Development Manager Daniel Kluko, the future of farming is heading in one clear direction: vertical. “If we want to feed hungry people this is how we need to farm,” said Kluko.
Kluko believes that vertical farming offers a very important benefit in today’s world of scarce land and resources— the potential for unparalleled plant density. After all, how else can a farmer grow 27 heads of lettuce in one square foot of growing space?
Green Spirit Farms was started by Daniel’s father Milan Kluko under his engineering company Fountainhead Engineering LTD. The idea for the farm emerged while the company was evaluating indoor, urban farm models in North America for a non-profit client—a process which piqued Milan Kluko’s interest about the viability of a vertical farming operation.
During the initial development phase, Fountainhead Engineering LTD experimented with a few hydroponic growing systems in their small engineering office. They worked on determining economic feasibility and sustainability, and even designed their own patent pending commercial vertical hydroponic system. When they were ready, they pursued funding from private sector investors and began to build Green Spirit Farms.
As the offspring of a well-known environmental engineering company, Green Spirit Farms had an overarching goal of sustainability from its inception. “Fountainhead Engineering has worked in the sustainability field for decades before sustainability was popular, so being sustainable for us was a no brainer,” said Kluko.
In order to realize its goal of absolute sustainability, Green Spirit Farms aimed to use less energy, less water, and much less space. Kluko says the farm uses 90% less water than traditional farming methods. In addition, it is a zero discharge operation and has zero soil and groundwater impacts from fertilizer or organic runoff. Other sustainability measures undertaken by the farm include the recycling of water from their water purification system, the composting of plant waste, the use of carbon neutral energy, and the use of compostable packaging.
All of these sustainable practices combined with an increased market for local, organic food have contributed to the success of Green Spirit Farms. According to Kluko, the farm chooses to grow products with high local demand like lettuce, basil, spinach, kale, arugula, peppers, tomatoes, stevia, strawberries and brussel sprouts. They sell their produce locally to grocery stores and restaurants and also host a small “Harvest Market” where they sell produce directly to consumers.
They have found this approach to be extremely successful. So much so that their biggest challenge is producing enough food to meet the local demand. “The majority of the restaurants where our farm is located use our produce and they can’t get enough of it,” said Kluko. “We will sell dozens of packages of lettuce to the local supermarket and they will be sold out within an hour or two.”
Adding to the farm’s profitability is the fact that vertical farming is much more cost-effective than other farming methods. “We cut out the risk of traditional farming, the labor, and most of the equipment costs,” said Kluko.
They have, however, found that the greatest cost associated with vertical farming is electricity— a cost which they are actively working to reduce. “Our largest cost is electricity but we can and plan to offset that cost with the integration of clean energy technology– solar panels and vertical axis wind turbines,” said Kluko.
In fact, looking toward the future, Green Spirit Farms hopes to reduce cost and increase sustainability simultaneously by revamping their approach to electricity. “I think eventually we would like to generate all of our own electricity on site at the farm using green technologies.”
Based upon the current success of Green Spirit Farms, it is clear that Milan and Daniel Kluko have managed to create an economically viable and sustainable vertical farming business model. But underlying the ingenuity and business savvy of the Kluko family resides a true desire to positively impact the world through sustainable agriculture. “This is not a niche business, it’s not something novel, this is a necessity for the human race to continue to live,” said Kluko, “We know our systems can be deployed anywhere in the world with maximum production and minimum environmental impacts.”