UP (Urban Produce) Farms began in a tiny apartment in Lincoln Square, Chicago in 2011.  I was driving home from a long weekend of touring with my indie rock band, when an episode of 'Fresh Air' on NPR came on.  Terry Gross was interviewing Dr. Dickson Despommier about his new book, 'The Vertical Farm'.  It was one of those moments where time, responsibilities, even Chicago's weather - faded out of my consciousness and a new reality came into view.  Dr. Despommier boldly and simply outlined the past, present, & future of agriculture.  My mind was leveled!!  In just a few months time, I had filled my apartment with different DIY Hydroponic designs I had found on YouTube and around the Internet.  

I was smitten with everything about hydroponics and the art of growing food sustainably.  I realized the calling and set out to design and build a hydroponic vertical farm focused on giving back to the Earth and ALL of its residents.

In October 2013, after two years of research, experimentation, and saving every penny I built a small vertical farm in an un-used warehouse space.  UP grew up - and into 400 square feet with 18 ft ceilings.  The first iteration of UP Farms was a modest and tiny dream.  The first farm saw::: 

  • The discovery and use of solenoids to maximize our water pumps
  • The advent of the 1st UP Germination Chamber - an ideal environment to begin life
  • Thought processes and procedures to maximize every inch of usable space
  • Our first customers - whom we are proud to say we gained after merely 3 months - and we have maintained until present


 T h r o u g h   t h e   n e x t   2   y e a r s   I   r e a l i z e d   I   n e e d e d   t o   m a k e   a   d e c i s i o n.    

Give in to:::       investors ////// job offers from competitors ////// FEAR

(all of which would have compromised the mission of UP)

O  R

Continue this wild dream I call-----------U P   F a r m s  


I looked at two locations in the city of Chicago.  After a second round city-appointed electrical inspector, complete with #Portillobreath, barked at me,

"You should really just start paying us. It'll make your life a whole lot easier."

I decided to pursue options elsewhere.


After searching for over a year, I decided to progress in our current warehouse. The new space, designed in collaboration with the department of public health, would prove to be quite an undertaking.  


...to be continued.


Founder, James Ratke in his natural habitat

Founder, James Ratke in his natural habitat