Earth Eats: Real Food, Green Living

The Plant Grows Out Of “The Jungle”

This area of Chicago was once known for the meatpacking industry. Today, The Plant hopes to make it a destination for sustainable agriculture.

the plant chicago

Photo: Peter Gray/HPM

A derelict meatpacking facility has been converted into The Plant, Chicago’s premier self-sufficient vertical farm and education space.

Located in the same stockyard made famous by Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle (1906), founder John Edel is growing an alternative type of green space in a very old building.

His goal is to “show what truly sustainable food production and economic development looks like.”

Closing The Loop

For the folks at The Plant, vertical farming means growing food on every level of their 93,500 square foot multistory building.

There are microgreens growing on the first floor along with a mushroom fruiting room. The basement houses two aquaponics farms, as well as a variety of small craft food tenets.

By running a variety of food production systems in one central location, The Plant can utilize waste from one area to feed another.

Ultimately, the Plant hopes to operate completely off the grid by producing its own heat and electricity with the help of an anaerobic digester, which is a giant composter that captures the biogas from food waste and converts it into power.

How it Works

Just like Mother Nature, The Plant operates as a symbiotic ecosystem:

  • Excess grains from the production of beer are fed to tilapia
  • Fish waste is converted into nitrates that feed the hydroponic plants
  • Plants then filtrate the water for the fish
  • Heat from the aquaponic system is pumped into the mushroom fruiting room to help maintain the humidity and moisture
  • Anaerobic digester converts excess food waste into biogas (methane)
  • Methane is burned through a turbine generator to produce electricity that will power the building’s heating, cooling and lighting

Organizers are aiming for a truly closed-loop energy system. “We need to start thinking a lot more about what we do with our waste and how we get our energy,” says intern Kassandra Hinrichsen.

“It’s innovative thinking like The Plant’s that’s going to save us.”

Tara Cobb

Tara Cobb is a student of public affairs at Indiana University. She volunteers at Mother Hubbard's Cupboard and is an advocate for food justice and community food security.

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