Recent college grad capitalizing on green ideas
Andrew Fernitz of Northbrook in Fulton Market enroute to Moto, a Chicago molecular gastronomy restaurant where he oversees 312 Aquaponics soil to fork plant technology. | Karie Angell Luc~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 23, 2012 6:27AM
Looking more like a summer league basketball player and not so much like a six-foot-six co-founder of a biology firm, Andrew Fernitz, 24, of Northbrook, pulled his bike unassumingly off a Milwaukee District North Line Metra train at Union Station.
His June 5 destination: Moto, a Chicago Fulton Market restaurant, where farm-to-fork technology features his Northbrook green thumb.
“It’s a molecular gastronomy restaurant,” said Fernitz, as the biologist wheeled his trusty bike to a routine wellness check on man’s most basic recycling system.
“At Moto,” explained Fernitz, who founded 312 Aquaponics with three peers, “we recently put in two rotating hydroponic towers and a four-level hydroponic wall system that offsets produce purchasing by about a $1000 a week.
“As far as I know, we have installed the only “in-house” vermicompost restaurant unit in Chicago where kitchen scraps are converted to fertilizer with worms.
Said the former Northbrook Boy Scout: “I love worms.
“I always found that using live worms were best for fishing, but now I like them more because I’m using them for what they should be used for, which is, for growing plants.”
Worm-processed fertilizer created from kitchen scraps nourishes hydroponic microgreens and micro-vegetables featured on Moto’s $160 prix fixe menu.
Starters include courses like Mizuna Salad.
“My favorite flavor has got to be the fennel,” said Fernitz, tasting leaves taken from under ultraviolet light in a 50 percent humidity room off Moto’s kitchen.
“We like to keep it 50-70 percent humidity and 68 to 75 degrees (Fahrenheit),” said Fernitz, of the room which features a convex window offering purplish pink neon futuristic color.
Down 14 red metal steps to the basement at 945 W. Fulton Market, Chef de Cuisine Richie Farina and crew prepped produce.
“I would say right now (it’s) the ruby red mustard green,” said Farina, of his microplant of choice.
“It has a good spiciness to it.
Of diner delivery time: “Obviously, you’re picking it literally two minutes before it goes on the plate, it’s farm to plate in about two minutes,” said Farina.
Said Fernitz: “It’s (the plant) essentially still alive, it doesn’t get any fresher than that.
“It’s as alive as you can get unless you’re grazing on your own lawn.” Fernitz, a University of Illinois/Chicago Circle graduate (2010), also a 2006
Glenbrook North High School grad, stood next to an A.O. Smith water heater, near where stainless steel commercial-grade pans held pans of vermicompost and red wiggler worms.
“A Northbrook worm probably has a lot less energy because he has less food in the soil,” said Fernitz, smiling, “whereas these worms are happier because we are providing them food every day.
“Kitchen scraps are their food which is our waste.”
Andrew is the oldest of four sons by Dave Fernitz, a Northbrook dentist, and his wife Louis, who taught art for 19 years at Highland Park Sherwood School.
His brothers are Sean, 22, Kyle, 19, and Eric, 17, a GBN junior.
His three 312 Aquaponics co-founders are Brian Watkins, Arash Amini and Mario Spatafora, all of Chicago.
A 312 Aquaponics 3,300 square foot rented warehouse in the Chicago Back of the Yards district features urban agriculture, where plants and fish mutually thrive.
Recycled water containing fish excrement fertilizes plants, which then gets routed via pipes back to the fish.
While Moto’s system features no aqua life: “I’m looking to provide fresher, more local, more nutritious food for the Chicago area and in my opinion,” said Fernitz, “there are a few ways to do it.
“One is where we are standing now, a personalized microfarm constructed with the implications to cut food miles and bring food cultivation closer to the fork.
“These smaller grow systems are great for restaurants, schools, grocery stores or your house.
Added Fernitz: “The other area of pursuit for me is in commercial urban aquaponic growing facilities.
“The larger scale model is where we will actually be able to produce a variety of leafy crops indoors, year round, using the waste from our Tilapia (fish) as fertilizer.
“The bottom line is simple; the owner of this restaurant (Moto) is cutting significant costs on a weekly basis through growing food in house.
“So, you’re saving money and your customer is going to be thrilled because they are dining on some of the freshest local greens in the city.”
Fernitz reaches out to stakeholders.
“I’m always looking to promote awareness,” said Fernitz, who will address schools, civic groups or businesses.
“We’re (312 Aquaponics) open to collaboration with local businesses in the food and beverage industry interested in sustainable food production which is also easy on the wallet.”
Andrew Fernitz, 312 Aquaponics co-founder, can be reached at (312) 476-9174. 312 Aquaponics is located at 1400 West 46th St. in Chicago.
Visit www.312ap.com. Facebook “Like” 312 Aquaponics at http://www.facebook.com/312Aquaponics