Garden going up: Work begins to turn old MFA mill into high-tech indoor farm

Garden going up: Work begins to turn old MFA mill into high-tech indoor farm

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. For decades, the landmark MFA logo towered over downtown. The colorful sign on the tall white grain elevator served as a nod to our farming heritage. Now, after 65 years, it is gone. In its place is a sign announcing something new to come. 

This week, workers rolled out a new banner highlighting the building's new tenant, Vertical Innovations, LLC.

"It was about a six hour project," stated David Geisler, Manager and General Counsel of Vertical Innovations. "That is a lot of work to fasten a banner 200 feet in the air," he laughed.

Vertical Innovations is turning the long-vacant Missouri Farmers Association grain silo complex into a massive indoor vegetable farm. The structure, which has been vacant for years, is owned by Missouri State University, and is being leased to Vertical Innovations for the project.

Geisler explained, "If it works, we are going to be able to supply a large amount of food for the people of Springfield that we know is safe, it is traceable. They are going to be able to say, this is hours old. It is going to be fresh."

There's obviously no sunlight in the tall tubes. So, artificial light and other technologies will help the garden grow. Several new employees will be brought on board to tend the crops and facility.

"Essentially, we are going to be a true vertical farm. We will be a farm using some new ideas we have that nobody else has done before," Geisler said. 

As you can imagine, there are not a lot of companies left that build grain elevators. So, for this project, the developer had to hire the modern incarnation of the company that built this place back in 1955. Borton Contractors & Engineers, based in South Hutchinson, KS, is now busy retrofitting the structure for its new purpose.

Geisler said, "I think that is part of the beauty of the project is it allows us to take these icons of our agricultural heritage and reuse them in the 21st century environment. It is refreshing." 

Developers and supporters have high hopes for the future of farming in urban environments. Though a grand opening is still months away, Geisler believes this project could be the first of many. 

"I think we will provide a model, a blueprint if you will, for how we can use abandoned grain elevators in other cities. But, Springfield will always be first."

As for the old MFA signs, Geisler says the one removed from the north side of the headhouse has been saved for preservation. The emblem facing south, which remains in place, will likely also be taken down and preserved.

By Michael Landis

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