Vertical farms: "Making nature better"

PORTAGE, Indiana -- Do not be confused by the drab facade of the warehouse in this Northwest Indiana industrial park. It's a farm... and it could well be the future. They're called "vertical farms" -- The entire operation is indoors, and it's a trend that could turn urban areas into agricultural hotbeds.

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Workers at the Green Sense Farms warehouse in Portage, Indiana.
CBS News

You'll find arugula and parsley, basil, kale and other greens that grace our plates.

"We are growing nine varieties of lettuces,'' said Robert Colangelo, the founder of Green Sense Farms.

Or you could call him Mr. Salad.

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Bob Colangelo
CBS News

"I guess. I'll take that. I could be called worse," says Colangelo.

This is how he does it, with a pink light from a light-emitting diode, or LED

"It gives you a very concentrated amount of light and burns much cooler. And it's much more energy efficient," says Colangelo.

No sun? No problem.

Researchers believe plants respond best to the blue and red colors of the spectrum, so the densely-packed plants are bathed in a pink and purple haze. They're moistened by recycled water; bolstered by nutrients; and anchored in a special mix of ground Sri Lankan coconut husks.

"We take weather out of the equation," says Colangelo. "We can grow year round and we can harvest year-round."

This abundance keeps the prices consistent year-round at local groceries.

Scott Hinkle, a local chef, says the sunless harvest tastes great. Hinkle shows off a "blossom salad" he serves which can include watercress, micro-arugula or kale.

With less water and fertilizer, fewer workers and no gasoline, it's more economical to grow greens this way than on a traditional farm.

Since there are no bugs, there's no need for pesticides. No weeds, so no need for herbicides.

And Colangelo really knows his plants. He says workers play classical music to create happy vibes for the flora.

Is there a composer the plants prefer? If it's Metallica, we don't want to eat it.

As to whether he's cheating nature...

"We're making nature better," says Colangelo.

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There's no need for insecticides or herbicides inside the warehouse.
CBS News
  • Dean Reynolds

    Dean Reynolds is a CBS News National Correspondent based in Chicago.