The Ruth L. Bennett Homes housing development is growing vegetables that will be sold at the Fare & Square grocery store. 

“We think that Chester consumers will appreciate finding locally grown produce in their store, knowing that they’re supporting the local economy and people they know who’ve grown the food,” say Steve Fischer, Executive Director of the Chester Housing Authority.

Chester consumers can look at a bundle of collard greens and decide if they want the bunch that came from the box in the back of the store which came off a truck that came in from the warehouse that arrived who-knows-when from a truck arriving from some farm and most likely picked by a non-native American somewhere in the country, maybe.

Or, they can be assured that the collard greens they buy were planted, grown and harvested about a mile away by their neighbors.

Which would you choose?

The Bennett Homes has a traditional farm using about 2 acres of their land. However, a new brand of urban farming is becoming big business. Old buildings, warehouses, and rooftops are being converted into ‘farm land’ as crops are growing indoors bathed in the purple fluorescence of LED light and stacked in racks several levels high in a massive hydroponic system that pumps soybean- and kelp-infused water through a temperature- and humidity-controlled system, nearly 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Sometimes called vertical farming, this is a relatively new industry of growing food in environmentally controlled, indoor facilities, where pests, diseases, light, temperature, and humidity can be highly controlled and is reaping huge benefits to areas with food shortages and realizing decent profits to those who invest.

75% of U.S. consumers live within 200 miles of a city, where vertical farming’s apparent advantages over outdoor agriculture—year-round growth, a small geographic footprint, a high yield per cubic foot ratio, and an often shorter distance to market—make it particularly appealing.

Grocery stores, restaurants, cafeterias, prisons, fast food chains, and even corner stores can benefit from having access to locally grown produce.

In cities like Chester with a bunch of old abandoned buildings begging for new life, wouldn’t it be great to see a few used to help feed the Delaware Valley.

There exist investors who finance these operations when all the conditions meet their requirements. Considering Chester will likely never become a manufacturing giant again and the extent of its entertainment industry has stalled with Harrah’s and Talen Energy Park, and no talk of getting any of that Marcus Hook new energy infrastructure, why not take advantage of our access to buildings ripe for renovations to a garden where we can ship our goods using our river, railroad, highway, and 10 minute access to an international airport? We could grow to become the largest urban farm on the east coast.

Sorry if I’m thinking out the box. Blame the Chester Housing Authority.

Feature photo: Steve Fischer, left, the executive director of the Chester Housing Authority, and Norman Wise, right, director of housing operations, speak at the Ruth L. Bennett Homes Community Garden where crops will soon be grown and harvested for sale exclusively at Fare & Square grocery. RICK KAUFFMAN — DIGITAL FIRST MEDIA