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This Michigan greenhouse takes a whole new approach to ‘farm-to-table’

A multipurpose greenhouse is an incubator, a commercial kitchen, and an event space.

This Michigan greenhouse takes a whole new approach to ‘farm-to-table’
[Photo: Tom Harris/courtesy Wheeler Kearns Architects]

Few seedlings live in style. Dirt, water, and grime are the day-to-day realities of plant growing, especially at the scale of a commercial farm. Seedlings getting their early starts in a greenhouse may not yet be living in the dirt of the earth, but they’re hardly in pristine conditions.

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Unless they’re growing at Granor Farm. An organic vegetable and grain farm in Three Oaks, Michigan, not far from the shores of Lake Michigan, the farm has just completed a luxury greenhouse space for its youngest crops. Designed by Chicago-based Wheeler Kearns Architects, the greenhouse is a 7,300-square-foot jewel box, with gently frosted glass draping over a steel frame to shield new plants from the harsh winters of the Great Lakes region.

[Photo: Tom Harris/courtesy Wheeler Kearns Architects]
But Granor Farm isn’t just focused on farming. So in addition to functioning as a working greenhouse, the new building includes a large flexible event space and a restaurant-quality commercial kitchen. In contrast to the utilitarian and often dirty greenhouses used on farms around the world, Granor Farm’s new greenhouse is an elegant, but still production-focused, multipurpose building.

[Photo: Steve Hall/courtesy Wheeler Kearns Architects]
It’s the latest in a decade-long collaboration between the architects and Granor Farm, which has been gradually adding buildings and facilities since its founding in 2006. It aims to create a modern farm that’s focused on both agricultural production and education of the public about where their food comes from.

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[Photo: Steve Hall/courtesy Wheeler Kearns Architects]
The farm also operates a public farm store, offers self-guided tours, and runs a farm camp for young children. The farm’s main nonfarming activities are the regular private farm-to-table dinners it hosts, featuring seasonal meals that introduce visitors to the farm’s operations and the agriculture of southwest Michigan. The new greenhouse will be the venue for these dinners going forward.

[Photo: Steve Hall/courtesy Wheeler Kearns Architects]
Built from a modular greenhouse system commonly used in the Netherlands, the structure of the long, rectangular greenhouse is fairly typical of a farm building. Each end is outfitted for plant growing, while the center is more public-facing, featuring space for dining tables and the kitchen where its farm-to-table meals are prepared. While the bookends of the building feature the diffuse glass best for spreading light to plants in varied weather conditions, the center is crystal clear.

“We always wanted whoever was going to be in that center space, be it visitors, people enjoying dinners, or even just the staff, to always have that connection back to the landscape,” says architect Michael Kendall of Wheeler Kearns Architects.

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[Photo: Steve Hall/courtesy Wheeler Kearns Architects]
Combining a kitchen and dining space into a working greenhouse presented some design challenges, according to Kendall, including figuring out the right balance of heating and ventilation that would keep plants growing in one part of the building and humans comfortable in another.

An automated shading system on the glass ceiling helps, as it regulates the temperature and blocks out the sun when in use by people.

[Photo: Tom Harris/courtesy Wheeler Kearns Architects]
Kendall says the building also embodies Granor Farm’s approach to running an agriculture business, which emphasizes a cross-pollination of program types and uses, and interaction between the public and the farm’s staff, as well as its crops.

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Single-pane glass separates the event and kitchen space from the growing areas of the greenhouse, which allows people coming to dinner events to literally see their food being grown, and for children at the farm camp to get up close, if not in the dirt, with the crops of a working farm.

[Photo: Tom Harris/courtesy Wheeler Kearns Architects]
While there is no shortage of former greenhouses repurposed as wedding venues and other event spaces, Granor Farm’s is a slick take on an otherwise utilitarian building.

“This is a very pragmatic building,” Kendall says. “Whatever we did, we very much wanted it to be an agricultural vernacular structure. We didn’t want to drop a UFO onto the site.”

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