MOKENA, Ill. - At a south suburban farm, it’s always springtime, even in December.
The unique farm uses new farming methods to bring fresh food to impoverished communities.
It all started when Derek Drake decided he wanted to be a farmer and bring together his love for food, tiny homes, and helping others.
But instead of a tiny home, he now has a tiny farm in Mokena.
Drake and his husband, Brad Scheiver, moved to a traditional farmhouse in Mokena earlier this year. Their plan for farming veers far away from traditional methods when they opened Ditto Foods.
Instead of crops covering a field, here plants climb the walls inside a shipping container.
"It's cold outside right now, but it's a perfect spring day in here," said Drake.
LED lights replace the sun and shine 18 hours a day in this hydroponic farming operation.
"We're replicating nature at its finest," said Drake.
"We joke that he's the heart, and I'm the head of the business. And so, my first question was, well, what can we grow?," said Brad Schiever, Ditto Foods COO and Co-owner.
The answer is access to fresh foods for people in food desserts, like Drake's hometown.
"Ford heights, there's no grocery stores, there's no one really trying to bring clean, honest produce to those communities. So that's our mission. Our goal is to create that access," he said.
They donate produce to food pantries and work in schools teaching kids about hydroponic farming.
Growing this business during the pandemic wasn’t easy. 25 banks and credit unions said no to financing this container farm, because it's tough to explain you want to be farmer but only need 320 square feet.
"We don't need land, we don't need tractors, we don't need the dirt. We just need to purchase solely one piece of equipment. And it's near impossible to try to explain that" said Scheiver.
But they got the financing and Ditto Foods now grows 9,000 heads of lettuce every 6 weeks.
They use an online farmer's market called Market Wagon to send produce to 7 Chicago area counties.
"I harvest that morning or the night before and take it directly to their warehouse and they ship it directly. They're delivering it directly to the customers by that afternoon. So, you can't get any fresher than that," said Drake.
All thanks to a fresh take on farming and feeding neighbors.