Square Roots partnering with GFS to open Kenosha farm; will grow fresh produce in shipping containers | Local News

In the dead of winter, the last thing on the minds of many Kenoshans is the thought of freshly-grown produce, salads and herbs on the plate.

But that’s all about to change.

Square Roots, an innovative indoor farming facility opening next to the Gordon Food Service distribution plant at 10901 38th St., near the Kenosha Regional Airport, announced Wednesday it has officially begun operations.

Partnering with GFS, Square Roots — the brainchild of co-founders Tobias Peggs and Kimbal Musk, the younger brother of Tesla CEO Elon Musk — is a company that integrates a state-of-the-art smart-farm technology platform and proprietary software to control its hydroponic growing systems. That means the company can produce lush herbs and greens year-round and picked fresh, while distributing to local grocery stores and restaurants often the same day they’re picked.

“Our partnership with Gordon Food Service, combined with our modular, smart-farm platform, means we can rapidly deploy new indoor farms in strategically located cities like Kenosha,” said Peggs, who is also Square Roots’ CEO. “We are also able to create exciting jobs in the community while making locally-grown food available, all year-round, to new consumers in nearby Chicago and Milwaukee, significantly expanding our reach in the Midwest.”

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Rick Wolowski, Gordon Food Service CEO, said the new farm accelerates a shared vision of building indoor farms with Square Roots.

“Together with Square Roots, Gordon Food Service is enabling local food at a global scale, meeting increased demand for produce that is fresh, responsibly grown and traceable from seed to shelf,” Wolowski said.

On less than 10,000 square feet, a team of 25 local urban farmers have been hired to work inside 20 standard-sized metal shipping containers, vertically stacked two stories high to grow everything from the iconic Genovese basil — the sweet-smelling Italian herb beloved by local chefs and home cooks alike — to nutritious salads, hearty tatsoi, kale and arugula and fast-sprouting microgreens.

Kenosha the largest site

The Kenosha site is home to the fourth Square Roots farm in North America and is the largest facility the company has built to date, Peggs said in an interview with the Kenosha News.

According to company officials, the Kenosha farming facility has the capacity to produce more than 2.4 million packages of herbs and leafy greens annually. The company also currently has two commercial-scale indoor farms in Michigan and Brooklyn, NY

“What we are trying to do is to feed every consumer on the planet eventually with locally-grown food that is better for people,” said Peggs, alluding to the company’s mission statement. “The way that we do that is we have a platform we’ve created for indoor controlled-climate farming.”

Peggs said that allows the company to establish “indoor pop-up farms” in cities like Kenosha relatively quickly. In July, the Kenosha City Council approved a conditional-use permit for what was described as a $3 million project on 8,715 square feet of growing space.

Square Roots herbs and greens are shown ready to buy in a number of packages. The company integrates state-of-the-art smart-farm technology an…

Basil year-round

Because of its carefully controlled and monitored system, the facility can produce crops using fewer resources all year-round, regardless of outdoor conditions.

For example, Square Roots is growing select seeds for Genovese basil, among the best basil in the world, Peggs said.

“Rather than ship the basil from (Genoa, Italy), what we essentially do is study the climate, how warm is it during the day, how cold is it at night, what is the CO2 level, the humidity, the nutrients in the soil, and we’re able to re-create that climate inside one of these shipping containers and grow that same basil, because now we can maintain that sort of peak season and maintain it 365 days a year,” Peggs said.

“So, you’re always able to produce this beautiful Genovese basil. If you were to walk into one of those containers, it would feel like you were in the Genoa region.”

The system is also designed to use 95% less water than conventional farming while creating the ideal conditions for the produce the company grows, Peggs said.

Each shipping container can be programmed to match conditions for growing specific crops.

“You’ll always then be able to provide grown local consumers with access to locally grown food that’s by local farmers, and yet whom we’ve recruited from the local community,” Peggs said. “We’re getting the food from the farm to the store the same day as we harvest. So that food is extremely fresh, and it’s going to last way longer than what you’d buy at the supermarket.”

This spring, Square Roots farmers in Kenosha will be harvesting long-lasting herbs, and not just basil. Other popular staples include cilantro, dill and parsley, alongside nutritious salad mixes and chef-favorite microgreens. The company is also planning an open house for the public later this spring.

No pesticides or GMOs

All Square Roots produce has at least 14 days of extended shelf life and is completely free of pesticides and genetically-modified organisms (GMOs), according to the company’s announcement.

Peggs said while the company’s farmers will start with herbs and greens, the technology can be used to grow other crops, such as tomatoes, carrots and peppers.

“We’re not (growing tomatoes) on Day One,” he said. “But the farm system that we have will actually be capable of growing those things. So, right now it’s about knowing what the local customers want and then growing that food.

“Right now, it’s herbs and salads.”

Next-gen farmers

Peggs said the company focuses on “opening new pathways” for more young people to enter the high-tech agriculture industry.

Employees earn a “living wage significantly above the minimum wage,” along with benefits and a share of the ownership in the company, Peggs said.

“One of the beautiful things about our system is that we’re able to attract people who come in and work with us who have had zero experience, but with the technology and soft-ware driven training that we have we can work with someone with no experience and get them to be a really competent farmer in our system in about six weeks,” he said. “So we really focus on providing access for young people to enter the industry … and it’s a really great way to start a career in urban farming.”

Grandmother Renee Blise and granddaughter Madelyn Verhyen, 10, sled down a hill at Petrifying Springs Park Monday afternoon (Jan. 24, 2022) with Grandfather Tom Blise and grandson Jordan Verhyen, 8.

Daniel Gaitan


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