Mokena’s microfarm provides fresh produce to disadvantaged communities.

Even in December, it’s always springtime on a farm in the south suburbs.

To bring fresh food to impoverished communities, the farm employs novel farming techniques.

Derek Drake decided to become a farmer in order to combine his passions for food, tiny houses, and helping others.

In Mokena, he now has a tiny farm instead of a tiny house.

Drake and his husband, Brad Scheiver, recently relocated to a traditional farmhouse in Mokena. When they opened Ditto Foods, their farming strategy deviates significantly from traditional methods.

Plants climb the walls of a shipping container instead of covering a field.

“It’s cold outside right now, but it’s a perfect spring day in here,” Drake said.

In this hydroponic farming operation, LED lights replace the sun and shine 18 hours a day.

“We’re replicating nature at its finest,” Drake said.

“We joke that he is the business’s heart and I am its head. So my first question was, “What can we grow?” “Ditto Foods COO and Co-owner Brad Schiever said.

The solution is to provide people in food deserts, such as Drake’s hometown, with access to fresh foods.

“There are no grocery stores in Ford Heights, and no one is attempting to bring clean, honest produce to those communities. That is our mission. Our goal is to make that possible “He stated.

They donate produce to food banks and teach children about hydroponic farming in schools.

It was difficult to expand this business during the pandemic. Because it’s difficult to explain that you want to be a farmer but only need 320 square feet, 25 banks and credit unions declined to finance this container farm.

“We don’t need land, nor do we need tractors or dirt. Only one piece of equipment needs to be purchased. And it’s nearly impossible to explain that “Scheiver stated.

However, they were successful in obtaining funding, and Ditto Foods now grows 9,000 heads of lettuce every six weeks.

They send produce to 7 Chicago-area counties via Market Wagon, an online farmer’s market.

“I harvest that morning or the night before and deliver it directly to their warehouse, where it is shipped. They’re going to deliver it to the customers that afternoon. So it doesn’t get any fresher than that “Drake stated.

All thanks to a new approach to farming and feeding neighbors.

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