Back in March, eco-friendly cleaning supply company Method broke ground on its first U.S. manufacturing plant, set to be built on Chicago’s South Side. Now the San Francisco-based company has revealed more details about the green roof planned for the factory: Through a partnership with urban farming company Gotham Greens, the facility will boast the largest rooftop farm in the world, producing up to 1 million pounds of produce each year.
Gotham Greens will design, build and operate the 75,000-square-foot greenhouse, the Brooklyn-based company announced in a joint press release with Method in early October. The pesticide-free produce harvested from the urban rooftop farm will be distributed through local Chicago retailers, restaurants, farmer’s markets and community groups – bringing fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables to the food desert that is the Windy City’s South Side. The greenhouse can also provide full-time green collar jobs for residents in the community, Gotham Greens’ Marketing and Partnerships Manager Nicole Baum told Method in an interview on its blog.
Gotham Greens’ farming practices yield numerous environmental benefits: Its irrigation methods use 20 times less land and 10 times less water than traditional agriculture requires, the company said in a statement. And although its produce isn’t certified organic, Gotham Greens does not spray pesticides on its fruits and vegetables. Instead, the company utilizes beneficial insects to combat the pests that threaten its crops – releasing at least 10,000 beneficial bugs into each greenhouse every week – according to Baum.
The sterile environment of greenhouses also reduces the risk of foodborne pathogens like E. coli and salmonella, Gotham Greens said in a statement – a safety issue that the conventional food industry has continued to struggle with.
Growing produce on a Chicago rooftop and then distributing the harvest throughout the local community is also clearly environmentally preferable to shipping food across the country for consumption. But Chicago residents will not only reduce their “food miles” – the distance their fruits and veggies have traveled from farm to plate – but they will also take advantage of the better taste and higher nutritional value of ultra-fresh produce. In fact, the urban farming company predicts that on many shopping trips, Chicagoans will find Gotham Greens’ produce in their stores or farmer’s markets that has been harvested and packaged that same day – even in the middle of winter.
The rooftop farm on Method’s factory will be Gotham Greens first venture outside of New York, where the company operates several rooftop greenhouses, including a 20,000-square-foot facility on top of the Gowanus, Brooklyn Whole Foods. While Gotham Greens focuses on growing leafy greens like lettuces, chard and kale, it also cultivates tomatoes and herbs, such as arugula and basil.
In addition to hosting the world’s largest rooftop farm, Method’s “soap factory” will incorporate numerous other environmentally and socially responsible elements – so many, in fact, that the company hopes the facility will become the first manufacturing plant to attain LEED Platinum certification.
Designed by William McDonough + Partners, the facility is being constructed on a former lumberyard that is now a brownfield site in Chicago’s Pullman neighborhood. The building plans include a 230-foot wind turbine that will generate about half of the factory’s annual electricity, as well as solar panels that can turn themselves to track the movement of the sun. Also slated for the factory roof, in addition to the greenhouse: a 1,500-square-foot canopy of greenery to help the building reduce energy use, improve neighborhood air quality and curb stormwater runoff.
And Method estimates its factory, scheduled to open its door next spring, will create nearly 100 new manufacturing jobs for Chicago residents.
With so many benefits to both the local residents and the environment, Method is reinventing the factory: from a neighborhood eyesore spewing pollution to a valuable community resource. And if anyone can pull off such a grand vision, it’s the same company that taught us green doesn’t have to be drab (check out its sleek product design) and made product packaging out of plastic litter from the ocean.
Image credit: William McDonough + Partners, Architects
Passionate about both writing and sustainability, Alexis Petru is freelance journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area whose work has appeared on Earth911, Huffington Post and Patch.com. Prior to working as a writer, she coordinated environmental programs for Bay Area cities and counties. Connect with Alexis on Twitter at @alexispetru