When Derek Drake started his company Ditto Foods, he had one mission: to focus on social responsibility and sustainability by providing the highest quality produce to Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) groups, wholesalers, and local restaurants. Now, the 18-wheel semi-truck parked in his driveway is one of the most exciting and innovative farming companies in Chicago.

Drake is single-handedly making hydroponics—plants that grow without the use of traditional soil or soilless mixes—a more common way of producing fresh vegetables.

According to Black Business.com, Drake’s process is not only more sustainable than other agriculture practices, it is also more efficient, as hydroponic farming creates more vegetables and herbs in half the time as traditional farming. What began as a way for Drake to recover from losing his job in hospitality following the COVID-19 pandemic has turned into a purposeful method of minimizing his carbon footprint while delivering fresh food to Chicago residents. With LED lights and water, Drake can grow up to 3 acres in a 320-square-foot shipping container.

And he doesn’t stop there.

@dittofoods Just me & my hydroponic garden 🥰#greenscreen #greenscreenvideo #blackfarmers #apartmentgardening #indoorgardening #hydroponics #hydrotok #smallbusiness ♬ original sound – ROCCO ELLIOT  ༽

Drake, who has more than 70,000 followers on TikTok, has made it his mission to inspire people from Chicago and beyond to take food-growing into their own hands. He regularly posts content and fields questions from farming hopefuls asking how to get started, and he has no problem keeping it real about the work it truly takes.

“There are some things that can go wrong, mostly user error on my part. We had some AC issues and we lost everything and we had to start over,” he recalled. Still, “this is a viable business and it’s a great opportunity to grow local, clean produce for our local community.”

The process is becoming more mainstream, as 2,000-plus farms are now growing hydroponic farms, a more than 5 percent increase since 2020, according to Gitnux.

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