What started out as a small venture by non-profits and schools, urban agriculture is expanding into a larger business investment as demand for local produce grows.

Finding empty space won’t be a problem. America is littered with thousands of abandoned big box stores, a trend fueled by the sputtering economy. About 11% of commercial and industrial real estate nationwide remains empty — double the vacancy rate of just four years ago, according to Reis Inc., which tracks real-estate data.

Finding buyers is also fairly easy. Large grocers, from Wal-Mart (WMT, Fortune 500) to Whole Foods (WFMI, Fortune 500), have made selling locally grown food a priority in their stores.

The growing environment would be completely controlled:

“You’re turning food into a factory scenario, where you can control the environment completely,” says Chris Higgins, an industry consultant and owner of Hort Americas, a Dallas supplier of hydroponic growing systems. “They could get production 365 days a year, which would be a huge advantage. They’re on the cutting edge.”

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