While the physical size of Bremen-based Micro Farms LLC might be relatively modest at a quarter of an acre, the idea behind the operation is vast.
Loren Graber grew up on his family’s corn, soybean and dairy farm, eventually taking over the operation before deflated milk prices drove him near to bankruptcy. After a 20-year absence from farming during which he worked in the vinyl fencing business, Loren’s natural passion for horticulture and interest in vertical growing brought him back to ag.
Four years ago, Loren and his son Dion constructed an 11,000-square-foot greenhouse after deciding to try their hand at hydroponic produce cultivation and vertical growing methods.
“You can’t get more fresh than what we’re doing,” says Dion, who manages the greenhouse. “I think vertical farming is slowly catching on in Indiana, and I hope to see it show up more and more.”
If you’re wondering just how in the world vertical farming works, it’s actually fairly straightforward. Towering inside the Grabers’ facility are rows of 12-foot vertical tubes lined with removable cups for their plantings, each of which is watered via nozzles that run down the middle of each tube. The result? Nine varieties of fresh, leafy greens including kale, butterhead lettuce and poc choi, produced year-round with significantly less water than traditional farming methods.
“Our tubes are what makes us different by far – it’s my dad’s own unique design using some of his knowledge from being in the vinyl business,” explains Dion, who also grows tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers on a trellis system in a separate space within the greenhouse. ”We use collected rainwater and growstone, which is recycled glass, as our soil for our vine crops. Our peppers are about five times as sweet as what you’d buy in the store, and our tomatoes are about three times as sweet.”
Passionate about both local food systems and worldwide food accessibility, Dion plans to scale up the Micro Farms model in the coming years in order to eventually construct greenhouses in third-world countries, while further expanding the selection of produce in his own greenhouse throughout 2018 and beyond.
“When buying local, you’re keeping the money in the community,” he adds. “When you have a community that lives off of each other, your community’s going to take care of itself. And with us there are no preservatives and no chemicals ever sprayed on the plants. So you know it’s healthy, and almost any time you get anything from us it was harvested that day or the day before.”
So if you thought you couldn’t get your hands on fresh-harvested, Indiana-grown produce smack in the middle of winter, think again. The Grabers’ products are available right here on Market Wagon.