The mission of Sea Wolf Farms is to provide the freshest nutritious greens, herbs and fish using vertically grown hydroponic methods. We believe in using organic principles that result in safe locally grown food and a healthy environment year round. We seek to educate, encourage and engage the next generation of farmers to look for innovative new ways to market and grow food nearby our community and neighbors while providing fulfilling and sustainable careers for the farmers.
Ben Volkmann, CEO / Owner / Operator. With experience from being in the technical service industry Ben brings passion and vision to the company to start an urban farm in his local neighborhood bringing fresh herbs and greens to his neighborhood. Ben isn’t your typical field farmer. He lives in Chicago and has been a city dweller for over half his life. He grew up in the rural countryside of SE Texas. Waking up in the morning and smelling the fields and livestock in the morning was just a part of life and taken for granted. Being young, working in the garden never seemed to be a big deal but it was hard work. Once he was old enough he did what a lot of young people from the country do, he ran to the city.
Over the years he lived in a variety of places to keep a roof over his head and where he could find work. In 2003, Ben moved to a small family homestead farm in Crawfordsville, Indiana. While never being personally involved in the planting, and harvesting he asked questions about various aspects of operating the farm and helped maintain the herb and fruit gardens although he often associated it with his upbringing. It was fascinating to see the corn, soybeans and wheat crops grow over the summer. It was here that Ben started to get the urge to be involved in nature and taking care of the earth. In 2005, Ben moved to Chicago for work. Missing the aspect of going into the yard for various herbs and fruits, Ben did small patio garden growing and container growing while living in Chicago’s Roger’s Park neighborhood.
Sea Wolf Farms started as an extension to a hobby hydroponics project in 2014 while Ben Volkmann was at home from a lengthy illness. Finding out that regular supplies of fresh lettuce and veggies tasted a lot differently coming right from his hydroponic gardens. The lettuce was more crisp and had a unique taste note he never noticed before. He shared it with his roommates who demolished his supply in very short order. He started exploring new ways to produce more. Not having the space to do in ground planting he wondered if he could do something indoors that wouldn’t cost a small fortune like Aerogardens. He started exploring different ideas and while exploring deep water culture concepts ran across aquaponics by accident. Placing a small raft of foam on top of a 10-gallon fish tank filled with platies. Surprised by the success of the lettuce and basil there he started exploring and found out that the process was called aquaponics.
This started a journey of testing, research and exploring information online. He started exploring the idea that maybe he could do something he found personally fulfilling as a living. During this process he started wondering if it could be turned into a commercial setup that could be successful in the city. It seemed that there were mostly only hobby growers out there providing information about the process. He then came across the Midwest Urban Farmer’s Summit which was hosted by the Plant Chicago. Touring places like the Plant Chicago made him realize that it was possible and could be viable. Biggest issue was how to cut down on labor costs. Another concern for him was to avoid the back breaking labor of doing indoor rafts or growing in the ground. During his exploring for an alternative design he ran across the ZipGrow Tower growing system. Watching some of the videos on the ZipGrow system by Dr. Nate Storey, he realized he found a solution to his labor and backbreaking issues. He obtained a couple of the towers to see what the production and labor involved would be like.
Looking around he realized that most of the farms in Chicago’s Farmer’s Markets were based within a 150-mile radius to Chicago. While there were a number of very small to medium urban farmer plots in Chicago, the vast majority of them were in the South Side of Chicago and only served very limited CSAs and one or maybe two of the farmer’s markets. There were some large greens producers that were focused on providing hydroponic greens to the local grocery markets. There were also a number of nonprofit organizations that did farming of public spaces but again they were mostly based in the ground and not doing the type of farming he was trying to do. He also wanted to connect with his neighbors and help them connect to their food as well and provide healthy fresh greens to his neighborhood without the transportation distance. It didn’t seem as though anyone took on the challenge of growing in the north side of Chicago unless it was associated with the Loyola University system.
The Local Food movement has been very big in Chicago and surrounding areas over the last few years and there is an increase in the number of restaurants and markets that encourage “local” produce. Realizing there are no local hyper local food providers offering year round produce in the Roger’s Park neighborhoods he saw something available. There is a trend for high quality and something different he saw a chance to introduce to his neighbors different types of lettuce and herbs that would not be typically seen around the local supermarket.
In 2015 Ben started working through the planning stages of starting up his farm with the Roger’s Park Business Alliance in the Roger’s Park GROW program, a business incubator program. He is a student in Upstart University by Bright Agrotech, a program to teach people how to become small farmers. In March 2016 he filed the DBA Sea Wolf Farms and pursued business licensing. In December 2016 he started negotiations for an outdoor growing space for 2017. This space it is hoped will provide a small CSA to get up and running and be a good educational space for growing in Chicago. He hopes to be in place to open his farm for commercial production in Spring 2018.