I recently learned about a really exciting project in Chicago called The Plant where sustainability meets urban farming and small businesses. According to the website, The Plant is a nonprofit organization that promotes sustainable food production, entrepreneurial businesses, and building reuse through education, research and development. Plant Chicago took a 93,500 sq. ft. former meatpacking facility, The Plant and is turning it into a net- zero energy vertical farm. One-third of The Plant will hold aquaponic growing systems and the other two-thirds will incubate sustainable food businesses by offering low rent, low energy costs, and a licensed shared kitchen.
The Plant will create 125 jobs in Chicago’s economically distressed Back of the Yards neighborhood and these jobs will not require fossil fuel use. Instead, The Plant will eventually divert over 10,000 tons of food waste from landfills each year to meet all of its heat and power needs–which is quite impressive!
A Cycle of Life-Growing Vegetables with Fish and Fish With Vegetables
Recycling will also occur in the aquaponic farm system. Aquaponics is a closed-loop growing system that creates a symbiotic relationship between tilapia (fish) and vegetables. Tilapia produces ammonia-based waste that is sent through a biofilter to settle out solids break down the rest of the waste into nitrates. Those nitrates are fed to plants growing in hydroponic beds. The plants clean the water by absorbing the nitrates,, and the nitrates are then returned to the fish. The Plant will sell both the fish and the vegetables to local food markets and restaurants in Chicago!
Incubating Sustainable Food Businesses
The Plant will also provide artisanal food businesses, including a beer brewery, a bakery, a kombucha (fermented tea) brewery, a mushroom farm, and a shared kitchen. According the The Plant Website:” Here again, waste from one business will be used as food for another. A good example is the spent distillers grains from the brewery will be fed to the tilapia, while solids from the tilapia waste will be fed to the mushrooms. This self-sustaining, interconnected system helps the businesses housed in The Plant grow and prosper together, while creating new, green jobs in a struggling community.”
Meet John Edel, Executive Director of The Plant
From the Plant Website: John Edel is the owner and developer of the Chicago Sustainable Manufacturing Center, a green business incubator in the Stockyards Industrial Corridor. As General Contractor, Edel took the facility from a burnt-out shell to 100% occupancy while using a mixture of waste-stream recycled materials and leading edge technology to make the building exceptionally energy-efficient and pleasantly non-toxic. The renovation was assisted by a core group of volunteers and by bartering with suppliers, tenants and scrappers.
In previous careers, Edel taught computer graphics, designed sets for broadcast television, art directed video games and worked as a chef on private railroad cars. He has a lifelong dream of combining industrial preservation and plants in a productive, conservatory-like project.
Check it Out Yourself! Take a Tour of The Plant
Volunteer at The Plant
- You: Something’s fishy in urban backyards (latimes.com)
- Wisconsin’s Future Farm Packs Sustainable Punch with Cow Powered Aquaponics Operation (seedstock.com)
- Aquaponics Could Signal Future of Food (InnovationToronto.com)
- Ever think about urban ‘aquaponics’? (bcurbancommunitygardenproject.wordpress.com)
- Chicago’s Vertical Farm Starts to Bloom (chicagotalks.org)
- Local Urban Aquaponic Farming Model to Reduce Food Mile, Create Jobs, Enhance Food Security (seedstock.com)
- Aquaponics Solves Agricultural Environmental Problems While Increasing the World’s Food Production (prweb.com)
- The Aquaponic Source Poised to Become the Hub for the North American Aquaponic Gardening Community (prweb.com)