Metropolitan Farms - Aqua and Hydroponics in the City
Article and Photos by Carly Schulman
Metropolitan Farms (Metro Farms) can be found at 4250 W Chicago Ave, where it is reclaiming industrial space for a new type of factory: one that puts out tilapia and greens and a distinct lack of environmental pollutants. While I call it a factory, the farm neither looks nor feels like an assembly line. Inside the greenhouse there are tanks of tilapia and a hydroponic setup growing a variety of tasty greens – from baby romaine to Thai basil.
I was fortunate enough to meet with Benjamin Kant, the founder and CEO, on the weekly harvest day. In addition to seeing the tilapia tanks and greens at different stages of maturity, I saw the harvest in action and the parts of the hydroponic set up normally hidden by the plants. The staff of three people worked quickly and carefully, harvesting the romaine and getting it packaged to be sent out in the very near future.
From Ben Kant’s perspective, running Metro Farms means facing both the typic farmer challenges and some unique to being an urban aqua and hydroponic setup. Like most farms, they face big financial investment in the beginning of their year with the potential for payback further down the line. Kant also stressed that they are a new and unproven business structure and method of farming. This means navigating unplanned problems, such as baby tilapia escaping and nibbling on the roots of produce – this is really a twofer in losses, as produce growth is paused and the tilapia cannot be used in the aquaponics because they will not eat the food they are fed.
Even with those struggles, Metro Farms’ produce and fish is becoming more available. Consumers can find their tasty greens at the Logan Square Farmers Market, Sugar Beet Co-op, Local Greens, and the restaurant Léa French Street Food in downtown Oak Park. The tilapia is sold through farmers markets, on site, and through Carnivore butcher shop.