Reporter's Notebook
In-store hydroponics: an idea that seems to be growing

In-store hydroponics: an idea that seems to be growing


Micro-greens grow in baskets set into AMB Eco's vertical tower.

Micro-greens have become the tiny big thing in many independent sit-down restaurants, but they are a pricey addition to dishes. They can cost upwards of $100 a pound.

Enter a home-grown idea: in-house hydroponics.

Drawing chefs’ attentions at the May National Restaurant Association show in Chicago was a showcase of in-store hydroponic gardens that allow restaurants to grow their own, everything from micro basil and lettuces to Swiss chard and chives.

The NRA set up a special area where attendees could see the small-scale hydroponic gardens in action, including a vertical setup shown here from AMB Eco, a Des Plaines, Ill.-based company.

The hydroponic gardens come in a variety of sizes and use artificial light, nutrient-enriched circulated water and coconut-fiber growing media to produce the little pesticide-free sprouts.

The systems provide year-round cultivation and reduce water use in a small footprint.

Homaro Cantu, executive chef at Moto and iNG restaurants in Chicago, said he was able to recoup the costs of his $11,000 system in about three months.

Given the wide variety of chefs, both corporate and independent, who visited the hydroponic garden at the show, this is an idea that’s, um, growing.

Baskets of sprouts allow for "rotation" of crops.

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