The Plant

April 15, 2011 § Leave a comment

The plant is doing some really interesting stuff on the south side of Chicago. Check their “about” section. Then head over to their blog


In July of 2010, Bubbly Dynamics LLC acquired the former Peer Foods meat processing plant at 1400 W. 46th Street in Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood and renamed it The Plant. A team of volunteer engineers, architects, farmers, professors, and students are working to rehab the 93,500 sq/ft building to become the first vertical farm facility of its kind. Aquaponic growing beds are being built as part of a full production farm occupying 36,000 sq/ft which will grow local, organic greens and fish. Approximately 45,000 sq/ft of the building will be occupied by sustainable food-business incubator units, a community kitchen and educational facilities. Upon completion there will be 125 permanent, full-time jobs at The Plant. See the rest after the jump…

Plant Chicago, a new non-profit operating in the facility, works to discover innovative ways to integrate sustainable urban agriculture and manufacturing in disused industrial structures by closing energy and waste loops in the built environment and by directing the waste output of one process into the material or energy input of another. Ultimately, through anaerobic digestion and a combined heat and power system, the facility will operate at net-zero energy. The anaerobic digester will consume all of the waste produced in the facility from brewing, aquaponics and food production businesses. Neighboring industries have been approached about consuming food wastes and fatty acids from their production processes as well. The anaerobic digester and combined heat and power system will convert 18 tons of biomass per day to approximately 300 kWh of electricity and sufficient heat to operate the entire facility and rooftop greenhouses while providing process heat for brewing. While the facility is already heavily insulated, the efficiency of existing mechanicals will be improved and the building will be retrofitted to bring it up to high-performance standards with recycled and locally manufactured materials.

Aquaponics is the combination of aquaculture (fish farming) and hydroponics (growing plants in water). The water in the fish tanks contains effluent which is high in ammonia. The ammonia is converted to nutrients for the plants by naturally occurring bacteria. The water then flows into planting beds, the plants pull the nutrients from the water, which has a filtering effect, and it is then returned to the fish tanks with minimal volume loss.  Compared to soil-based farming, aquaponics is a near ideal system for water conservation. Aquaponics has several other advantages as well.  By growing in water we are able to eliminate all soil borne disease and the need for washing before going to market. The space required for a large scale aquaponic farm is minimal compared to traditional farming and can be scaled to fill almost any space. The need for pesticides, antibiotics and fertilizers is eliminated.

Several business models will operate in the sustainable food business incubator portion of the building. A shared kitchen with three stations will be available for rent by the hour to allow entrepreneurs to operate in a licensed, inspected kitchen. Office space will be available to start-ups who are using the shared kitchen so that they can have a commercial address and place to store packaging and other materials. Permanent, leased kitchen spaces will be available to more established food businesses at low lease rates and greenhouse space will be available to businesses in the facility who desire to grow their own produce. A demonstration kitchen will have space for tenants to gather, prepare meals, share ideas and work with each other.

Plant Chicago builds on Bubbly Dynamics’ success in transforming a derelict industrial building into the Chicago Sustainable Manufacturing Center (CSMC), a green business incubator which is fully occupied and profitable. Located in the Bridgeport neighborhood, the CSMC was renovated with waste-stream recycled materials and is now home to 16 tenants providing 48 full-time jobs. The building’s green roof is planted as the image of John Edel’s daughter Zoe and was the first green roof funded through the city’s SBIF program.

The entire Plant Chicago team is inspired by the belief that sustainable, indoor, urban aquaponic farming is a viable and effective means of improving the quality of our food production infrastructure. The principles which guide its initiatives are re-use and sustainability. By combining manufacturing with agriculture and creating energy efficiencies, Plant Chicago hopes to demonstrate that vertical farming in existing industrial buildings is both practical and profitable. The hope is to create a replicable model that will bring vertical farming to urban centers throughout the country while helping to create meaningful jobs and redefining energy efficiency.


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