Learn how vertical farming, powered by Intermatic Lighting Timer Switches, helps an Illinois farmer grow a new stream of revenue.
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In January, the open fields of Harvard, IL, a far northwestern suburb of Chicago, are biting and bone-chilling. Inside Kirk Cashmore’s barn, it is a fair 72 degrees F, the perfect temperature for producing leafy heads of lettuce through vertical hydroponics, the practice of water-based gardening with vertically stacked shelving in a controlled environment.
Since 2011, Kirk Cashmore has been the only for-profit vertical hydroponic farmer in Northern Illinois. His pesticide- and chemical-free lettuce is served at a popular, Green-certified restaurant, Duke’s Alehouse and Kitchen, in nearby Crystal Lake, IL, and sold at biweekly basket drops along the North Shore and in the Madison, WI metro area.
Inside Cashmore’s 3,500 square foot building, three vertically stacked shelves, built from recycled materials, provide room for up to 4,000 heads of lettuce. Each shelf grows approximately 1,200 heads, or about five heads per square foot, which Cashmore reports is the number to beat in the world of vertical hydroponics. With room in his barn to still expand out- and upwards, Cashmore has the potential to harvest nearly 8,000 heads.
Winter in the Midwest means long periods of grey, cloudy skies. An electronic timer ensures lights remain on based on the amount of sun, typically 16 hours a day, 7 days a week. Relying on the timer to turn lights on and off as needed gives Cashmore – a one-man show – the freedom to tend to other business without worrying. “Timers are very important for turning lights and fans on and off,” stated Cashmore. “Having an electronic timer makes this an automated sport, so I can have more time with my family and friends. It gives me more time to not have to work.”
One of the biggest benefits of hydroponic farming is the superb quality of the produce. Plants don’t spend any time outside in the wind, dirt or the rain; they grow in a controlled environment that is bug-, chemical- and pesticide free. This creates greens with an unmatched body and texture. As more and more people buy organic and seek out locally grown produce, demand is certain to grow. Cashmore envisions remaining profitable and productive by adding more capacity to double or triple lettuce headcount and growing a variety of other vegetables in the winter.
“I find that if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing right. As a father of three little girls, I have no tolerance for chemicals going home and into my kids’ mouths. I want to make the best produce that I can for my family, my clients and my friends,” he explained.