Chicago Leads the Way in Urban Sustainable Agriculture

The City of Chicago has been making some major leaps into sustainability. They have worked on increasing their urban green areas as well as re-purposing abandoned land into useful projects. The city also boasts more than 300 miles of bikeways, 7 million square feet of green roofs and currently has more green hotels than any city in the U.S. It is also one of the most ‘climate ready’ cities of the United States.

Now the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity has given a grant of $1.5 million to convert an old meat packing facility into a hub for urban agriculture.

The Plant is located in the heart of Chicago’s industrial landscape and it is probably one of the city’s most ambitious projects. The facility is going to be converted into an off-grid food processing facility. It will incorporate aquaponics, underground farming, and a brewery, as well a local food business incubator and outdoor growing spaces as well.

All this will be 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 Plant’s founders seem confident that they will be fully up and running by 2015. Already, the premises contain herb gardens for kale and arugula, as well as tanks that support tilapia.

The Plant aims to turn a building that is no longer in use into a productive enterprise. The Plant is literally aiming to become an urban farm that is energy and resource efficient. Such systems can also serve to create jobs in the inner city areas, as well to provide avenues for community engagement.

Apart from The Plant, the city is also home to an urban garden in the middle of Chicago’s O’Hare airport. The Tower Garden growing system is an aerophonic technology and it is used to grow lettuce, greens and herbs for airport restaurants with an almost zero transportation footprint. This system is something that can be utilized at home as well as it requires very little space.

All it requires is a short set up of the system which comes with full instructions. Upon planting the seed kit which is provided, the plants will be ready for harvest within three weeks, depending on the type. The system will need occasional maintenance by checking on the pH and water levels. Once the plants are grown, the produce can simply be plucked off.

Urban agriculture and micro farms may well be a permanent fixture towards a more sustainable method of growing our food. There are still debates about whether these are sustainable methods. However, with the increase in the carbon footprint of food, traditional food production alone may no longer cut it.

[Image Credit: The Plant, Flickr PhotoStream Arugula Bed]

Akhila is the Founding Director of GreenDen Consultancy which is dedicated to offering business analysis, reporting and marketing solutions powered by sustainability and social responsibility. Based in the US, Europe, and India, the GreenDen's consultants share the best practices and innovation from around the globe to achieve real results. She has previously written about CSR and ethical consumption for Justmeans and hopes to put a fresh spin on things for this column. As an IEMA certified CSR practitioner, she hopes to highlight a new way of doing business. She believes that consumers have the immense power to change 'business as usual' through their choices. She is a Graduate in Molecular Biology from the University of Glasgow, UK and in Environmental Management and Law. In her free-time she is a voracious reader and enjoys photography, yoga, travelling and the great outdoors. She can be contacted via Twitter @aksvi and also

5 responses

  1. Dont’ forget the origins of all these things were up the road in Milwaukee – mostly led by Growing Power’s Will Allen:

  2. Couldn’t agree more. Milwaukee and Chicago have been like the Portland and Seattle of the midwest in terms of this type of innovation. Or perhaps I should say Portland and Seattle are like the Chicago and Milwaukee of the west coast. :)

  3. I am excited that these new developments are being deployed in a timely manner. The inner city needs more fresh food produced locally. I hope that food deserts become obsolete. I would encourage everyone to have a garden and yes Will Allen is a living legend.

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