Changing the Face of Downtowns

Innovation: The Plant, Back of the Yards-Chicago

Innovation: The Plant, Back of the Yards-Chicago

Oct 17, 2012

CHICAGO- There is an amazing story growing on the edge of the Old Union Stockyards, in the shadow of a soon-to-open Walmart Express, at the old Peer Meat Packing Plant. The first thing you notice from 47th Avenue is the old PEER sign, which after a slight modification, now reads bEER.

The Plant, in the Back of the Yards, is changing the landscape in Chicago.

But once you you turn the corner, and drive past Walmart, you are greeted by the bright colors of a hand-painted sign reading “The Plant.” Soon after, you notice that the land behind the sign is a freshly planted garden.Turn right to park and you seen the giant wind turbine of Testa Produce, America’s first LEED Platinum Produce facility. As I got out of the car, I saw two women unloading bee masks and a smoker out of the trunk of their subaru. I offered a hand carrying things in, and was invited TO THE ROOF to see where the bees live. ON THE ROOF.

The Roof is a great place to start. Skyline view of Chicago. Rooftop bees. PVC Tomato Garden. You know, pretty standard really. Below, there are two bakeries, and, as you would imagine, a mushROOM. In the mushROOM, they heat water to 160 degrees, put straw in for two hours, needing to maintain at least 140 degrees the whole time, then drain the water, add mushroom spores, and fill into plastic cylinders to start the growth process. They are then put in a dark corner for two weeks, and finally sold to restaurants all over the city.

Roofer-top bee keepers.

The first floor is being prepped for a new organic brewery. The side yard is all planted with ingredients for the tenants to use. The back lot is prepping for the installation of a DIGESTOR. The digestor is going to turn organic waste from the remaining meat processing facilites as well as Testa Produce, and much like a stomach, digest it and produce methane gas. That methane will then fuel the heat and power of the building. So if you are following along, the whole building will be fart powered. True Innovation.

But the coolest part of it all was in the basement. As you descend into the dark mill basement, you hear the sound of water. This water is the heart of the vertical farming system that they have created, where they are raising tilapia in tanks, and then taking the poop-filled water to create a hydroponic farm for Kale and greens for restaurant use. The

Hydroponic planter rafts.

plants, floating in little rafts, filter the water, which is then recirculated through the fish tanks. The fish are feed the waste from the baking and soon to be brewing processes. And they are producing greens and fish for local restaurants.

I have seen A LOT for stuff, but I have to admit, and Honey-Roofed, Fart-Powered, Mushroom-Spawning, Bread-Baking, Poopwater growing Fish Farm is about the coolest thing ever. Hats off to true innovation. I can’t wait to see what comes next out of The Plant!

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