World’s first commercial, indoor strawberry farm coming to Murray
Aug 29, 2019 10:37AM
By Shaun Delliskave
An example of vertical farming shows stacks of crops growing in an indoor building. (Photo courtesy Murray City)
By Shaun Delliskave | [email protected]
It could be the world’s first private, commercial, vertical, indoor strawberry farm, and the Murray City Council approved it during their June 18 meeting. In a first for an urban Utah city, the City Council amended the Murray City Municipal Code to allow for indoor, vertical farming.
This clears the way for Chihan Kim, a businessman whose holdings include a Sandy coffee shop, to develop what would be Utah’s first large-scale commercial, indoor, hydroponic farm in a vacant warehouse building located at 158 E. 4500 South.
“(I) will collect all the material to build the facility and…grow vegetables and some fruits, like strawberries, that will benefit from the omittance of herbicides,” Kim told the Murray City Planning Commission on May 2.
Vertical farming has become a buzzword in agriculture. The process includes producing food in vertically stacked layers, such as in a skyscraper, unused warehouse, or stacked shipping containers, with controlled-environment agriculture technology, where all environmental factors can be controlled. Such facilities utilize artificial light control, environmental control (humidity, temperature and gases) and fertigation. Some vertical farms use techniques similar to greenhouses, where natural sunlight can be augmented with artificial lighting and metal reflectors.
One of the most successful vertical farming operations is in Jackson, Wyoming. There, Vertical Harvest produces 100,000 pounds of vegetables a year on a plot 30 feet high by 150 feet long. Their 1/10th-of-an-acre site grows an annual amount of produce equivalent to 10 acres of traditional farmland. However, other ventures have failed.
Vertical farms are expensive to set up and take a long time to expand. Technology is changing at such a rapid pace that a newly opened competitor in the field could offer produce at a lower rate than an established producer. Still, indoor farming is appealing as a sustainable solution to growing food with little need for pesticides, water and land.
Before the code change, “Indoor Farming” was not listed as an allowable use in any zone in Murray City. For Kim to move forward with his zoning request, he needed to go through the extreme measure of having Murray change its code to allow for such a business.
This won’t be the first vertical, indoor farm in Utah, as an 11,000-square-foot facility sits on farmland in Charleston. Strong Vertical Garden supplies produce from that building to Smith’s grocery stores and microgreens to several chefs and restaurants in Utah.
The building that Kim intends to transform into an indoor farm is the former Electrical Wholesale Supply building. That building will allow Kim’s company, City Farm, to have 40,609 square feet for operations. LED lighting will be the primary source of light for the plants.
Murray City planning staff noted in their recommendation to the City Council that the indoor farm, “…will create the best opportunities to adaptively re-use and potentially revitalize older buildings and vacant spaces… (and) have the potential to place year-round access to fresh food closest to populations with limited transportation options, creating a positive impact on public health.”
“The main crops that we are considering at this moment are strawberries,” Kim said. Strawberries, he said, are one of the most contaminated fruits because of outdoor pesticides. This process will save them from harmful chemicals that get trapped in their seeds and pores and don’t all wash out with water.
“The farm operations will be maximum automation. Pollination—I am going to use drones. Drones will produce wind that will promote pollination. The farm will be open to the public with large windows. Strawberries will be supplied to grocery stores, but we will also make strawberry smoothies and food like that,” Kim said.
Councilwoman Diane Turner stated, “I think it is a great idea. I am really pleased you are doing this in Murray.”