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Wilder Fields Unveils Key Component For One Of World’s Largest Vertical Farms

Wilder Fields unveils key component for one of world’s largest vertical farms now under construction in a vacant Super Target in Calumet City
Unique system housed in 22 cleanrooms to yield 25 million plants annually

Calumet City, Ill., August 11, 2021— Today at Wilder Fields, Thaddeus Jones, mayor, City of Calumet City, joined Jake Counne, founder and CEO, Wilder Fields, to officially unveil a proprietary automation system for the indoor vertical farm now under construction in a 135,000-square-foot, vacant Super Target in the city. Using Wilder Fields’ technology, this innovative venture will be one of the world’s largest commercial vertical farms, comprising a fully controlled and automated indoor environment.

When phase one construction is completed in first-quarter 2022, the company will safely grow and harvest dozens of full-flavored, pesticide-free varieties of leafy greens, eventually reaching a yield of up to 25 million plants annually.

“Calumet City is excited to join Wilder Fields in bringing this exciting project to our community,” said Mayor Jones. “Wilder Fields is changing indoor farming for years to come, and I look forward to its success and growth. We are building a world-class community and Wilder Fields is at the head of the pack in helping Calumet City become the leader in world- class businesses that add value to the lives of our residents.”

“Calumet City gets it,” added Counne. “We collaborated for two years before completing the infrastructure and building out the farm. The city has supported us as we wrote the playbook for transforming vacant big-box structures into high-tech farms. Calumet City shares our vision of the positive impact Wilder Fields can have, not only on this community but also on the future of sustainable indoor agriculture.”

Jones and Counne used a giant switch to light up a demonstration model of Wilder Fields’ 20-foot tall grow towers. These proprietary towers will be housed in 22 cleanrooms— each measuring 105,000 cubic feet and containing four towers—that form the basis of Wilder Fields’ system, which employs lean manufacturing principles that disrupt and improve upon previous designs to manage the costs that have bedeviled some attempts at large-scale indoor farming.

Jake Counne Wilder Fields
Jake Counne, founder and CEO, Wilder Fields, leads tour of indoor
vertical farm technology.

In keeping with its commitment to social responsibility, Wilder Fields will use clean energy to power its farm and make efficient use of water purchased from Calumet City.

“Wilder Fields’ dedication to the environment and community goes beyond repurposing buildings,” said Henry Pierce, ComEd senior economic development specialist. “By taking advantage of the ComEd Energy Efficiency program, Wilder Fields saves energy and money that can be used to focus on what matters—sustainably growing food and creating jobs for the community.”

“Wilder Fields did not require re-piping or any other special accommodations,” explained Gerry Surufka, deputy water commissioner for Calumet City. “And thanks to the efficiency of the company’s system, which uses small drips of precisely measured water, we do not anticipate any need to increase the water supply to this former Super Target.” Due to its unique use of technological breakthroughs, Wilder Fields requires 95 percent less water than traditional farming methods.

The Calumet City location is the first commercial-scale Wilder Fields operation, a project currently valued at an estimated $50 million, according to Counne. By using artificial intelligence to apply principles of machine learning to farming, Counne and his visionary team built a system that continually monitors the plants’ health and growing environment, supplying light, water and nutrients as needed while reducing human contact.

“I consider our Wilder Fields team to be true problem-solvers,” said Counne, who focuses on rehabilitating abandoned big-box stores to help revitalize the communities where they are situated. “We take nothing for granted and continue to challenge many of the accepted ways of building and running a vertical farm. We already have engineered some incredibly cost-effective and elegant solutions for some very expensive problems.”

Even as the Calumet City location ramps up to full capacity, Wilder Fields currently produces its tantalizing array of flavorful greens on a smaller scale, available at Dom’s Kitchen & Market and at Local Markets Food in Bucktown.

By early 2022, its produce will be sold at supermarkets and served at restaurants within a 100-mile radius, eliminating the long-distance hauling that affects freshness and curtails shelf life, and reducing Wilder Fields’ carbon footprint. An onsite retail store also will give Calumet City residents and others nearby access to fresh, healthy produce.

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Photos by Marc Monaghan.

Automation, Vertical farm