As the world’s population continues to grow, so does the need to grow food in urban areas. But did you ever imagine growing greens in a former meatpacking plant?
John Edel did. The Plant’s executive director was inspired as a boy on a visit to the city’s Garfield Park Conservatory indoor garden. Edel, a manufacturing expert, worked with students at the Illinois Institute of Technology as well as his fellow Chicagoans to turn the one-time slaughterhouse into a self-sustainable space where manufacturing and indoor growth happen simultaneously and vertically.
But The Plant goes one step further by using aquaponics (or the combination of aquaculture and hydroponics) to create an almost fully-closed ecosystem. Simply put, it captures the fish waste to feed the plants. Fermented tea, beer, mushrooms and other crops also are produced there, with plans to add bees and chickens. It also will use an anaerobic digester to produce all of its own electricity and heat on-site, Plant officials say.
“Industrial ecology — the concept of using other people’s waste as input — is fascinating,” Melanie Hoekstra, The Plant's director of operations, told The Daily GOOD. “In nature, there’s no waste, but there is so much waste in human consumption and development. This is an obvious problem that we can resolve with a building that can do so many things. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s really close.”
The Plant is getting a lot of attention, both locally (recent visitors included Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel) and nationally (Popular Science magazine ran a feature on it a few months ago). And while it’s not completely full yet tenant-wise, Plant officials hope it will be fully operational by 2016.
Click here for a cool video that walks through how The Plant is designed to operate.