The Plant, an old meat packing facility in the heart of Chicago's industrial landscape, might be one of the most ambitious—as a conversion is underway to turn it into an entirely off grid food production and processing facility incorporating aquaponics and underground farming; a brewery; a local food business incubator and outdoor growing spaces too. All this being powered by an anaerobic digester and a combined heat and power system that will divert 27 tons of food waste a day from surrounding businesses. (The fact the building is already heavily insulated will be a huge head start for these goals.)
It is, undoubtedly, an ambitious undertaking. But with $1.5 million in grant money from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, The Plant's founders seem confident that they will be up and running and entirely energy self sufficient by 2015.
John from Growing Your Greens took a tour of the facility, and it is fair to say that right now it is still looking a little derelict.
But down some rather scary, dank corridors there is actually already food growing. There's a whole room of large tanks filled with tilapia which will eventually be fed with spent grains from the brewery.
And a large area of aquaponic grow beds using styrofoam floats to grow arugula, kale and other greens.
We have, of course, heard it argued that vertical farms are pie in the sky, but those criticisms tend to be levelled at the rather fanciful skyscraper-like creations so beloved by architecture magazines (and green bloggers). Using the basements and yards of our obsolete industrial heritage to grow food in dense, energy- and resource-efficient ways while creating much needed jobs in our inner city communities seems, to me at least, to be a no brainer.
Farms and cities can mix. They just need to mix well. Here's the rest of the tour from Growing Your Greens—thanks, as always, to John for another great video.