MOKENA, Ill. — When the pandemic made them reevaluate the future, one thing was certain: they would be giving back to those in need.

Taking an entrepreneurial leap with a new hydroponic farm while increasing fresh produce access to all, Derek Drake and Brad Schiever are Chicago’s Very Own.

“I love the idea of being able to control, kind of replicate nature so to speak, and to grow food,” Drake said.

Drake and husband Schiever are the proud owners of Ditto Foods, a hydroponic farm serving up fresh produce year-round.

“We grow lettuce, leafy greens, herbs and then we are able to grow some root vegetables, such as radish and baby carrots,” Schiever said.

Operating out of Mokena, the pair opened Ditto Foods in March. This 320-square-foot trailer is delivering the equivalent of four acres of producer, all vertically.

“We can grow 8,000 plants at one time and so we can do that in a matter of six-to-eight weeks,” Schiever said.

With shared backgrounds in food and hospitality, Drake said the idea developed during the pandemic when he found himself without a job.

“It gave me the opportunity to kind of stop and level set and really look at what I wanted to do next,” he said.

After extensive research, the two decided to try their hand with a hydroponic farm using a shipping container. A native of Ford Heights, Drake said the first mission of Ditto Foods is to bring access to communities known to be food deserts.

“Initially, we started the business with the idea of creating access because growing up, we didn’t have grocery stores in Ford Heights,” Drake said. “We had liquor stores and the local food mart.”

To increase access of fresh produce, Drake and Schiever partnered with Market Wagon, an online farmer’s market serving many in the south suburbs.

Ditto Foods also offers a discount program for Ford Heights families and regularly donates to the local food pantry.

Cornerstone Development Deputy Director Khamil Walton said the hydroponic setup has been helpful to his organization.

“The fact that they are doing it hydroponically and indoors allows them to dictate how many harvests how many seasons we are able to get fresh produce in times of the year when we would normally have challenges getting discounts of that type,” Walton said.

The entrepreneurs said they believe hydroponic farming is the future, but bringing it to where it is most needed remains the focus of their mission.

“But the goal is to still put a farm in Ford Heights because it has to be part of the narrative change has to be that the produce is coming out of Ford Heights,” Drake said.