The Plant, an urban farm that runs round in circles

Posted on 10 April 2018.

In Chicago, The Plant is an ecosystem of small local producers where the waste of one becomes a resource for others.

The goal? To transform 10,000 tonnes of food waste every year into electricity and power 250 households.

Not that long ago, The Plant was a pork processing plant in Chicago. Scheduled for demolition, the 8,600-square-meter building built in 1925 in the Back of the Yards, the city’s slaughterhouse district, and operated by Peer Foods until 2007, had been abandoned before being bought in 2010 by Bubbly Dynamics, a social enterprise founded in 2002 by John Edel.
A small team of Bubbly employees and volunteers then began restoring the building with the aim of making it a space for urban agriculture and sustainable food production. The basement is equipped for aquaponics, and the ground floor has been transformed into a brewery. Demonstrating the changes, the "P" in the "Peer" sign erected at the top of the old factory has been turned upside down to make the word "beer".

Today, The Plant, presented as an incubator for small local producers, hosts around fifteen entities, including a microbrewery, a bakery, several small farms that grow plants using hydroponics, a coffee roaster... The site also organizes a farmer’s market, as well as educational workshops for students and the general public – and even conducts various circular economy and urban agriculture research projects.


Living laboratory

The Plant is a "work in progress", a "living laboratory" exploring the creation of virtuous circular economy loops. In addition to producing hyper-local food in the heart of a food desert (where local people can’t buy healthy food at affordable prices), the idea is also to create links between the various businesses hosted there and consequently foster collaboration and the flow of materials - the waste from one process being repurposed as a resource for another. For example, by-products from the craft brewery are used to feed fish reared on the aquaponic farms on the floor below.
The keystone is a digester, which should soon be built in the heart of the plant. Fed by food waste and the by-products from the companies on the site, the facility will fully cover their energy and heat needs.

Ultimately, the goal is to divert more than 10,000 tonnes of food waste from landfills every year and generate enough electricity to power 250 homes.