Sustainable America Blog

The New Urban

Imagine that decrepit old building you drive by every day on your way to work, the one with the cracked windows and cobwebs visible in the morning light, transforming into a vertical farm that produced tons of delicious fresh food and literally zero waste. Sound like a dream? Well in Chicago’s meatpacking district this vision has become reality. There you can find “The Plant”, a 93,500 square foot old meatpacking plant that entrepreneur John Edel has transformed into a co-op vertical farm and food business incubator.

Because of its history in meatpacking, the building already contained food-grade materials which allow for legal and safe food preparation (no asbestos here!) With an eye towards bringing manufacturing jobs back into the city, Edel decided to stick entirely with food in his building.

Inside “The Plant”, a name with now double meaning, there are a few bakeries, a kombucha tea brewery, tilapia fish farm, mushroom garden, and three aquaponics farms. Now they want to add a brewery so that the grain waste from brewing beer will be able to feed the fish farm, and the waste from the fish will feed the mushroom farm and the plants will clean the water and send it back to water the fish. No waste, everything is used…

If you’re in Chicago, you can tour The Plant to see how things run or even give a few hours as a volunteer to learn some new skills. And if you’re really ambitious, find out a way to convert your local urban eye sore into a wonder house of food production for your community.

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By the Numbers

Currently 50 million households suffer from food insecurity, meaning that family members cannot always meet their basic food needs.

10 million people a year could be fed through the recovery of just one-fifth of food waste.

Only 2% of food waste is composted or otherwise recycled—62% of paper is recycled.

Consumers throw out about 40% of the fresh and frozen fish they buy.

The U.S. produced 208 pounds of meat per person in 2009—60% more than Europe.

Low income commuters spend a much higher proportion of their wages on gas—8.6% versus 2.1% at $4 per gallon.

Food prices rose 35-40 percentage points between 2002–2008.

Americans consume 25% of the world’s produced oil, but our nation holds less than 3% of the world’s proven oil reserves.

The International Energy Agency says greenhouse gas emissions rose 3.2% last year, with a 9.3% increase in China offsetting declines in the US and EU.

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