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The Plant: Combining New Food Models and a Manufacturing Legacy
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Above: "The Plant" - a former meathouse packing plant in Chicago is being reused for urban agriculture and business incubation
A variety of factors have ignited a boom in the sustainable food industry: concerns over energy usage, high transportation costs and increasing demand for local produce are just a few. As developable land is gobbled up in cities, there is little space left for lower-profit urban agriculture. Solutions have been small-scale and hard to come by thus far.
But in Chicago’s South Side neighborhood, entrepreneur John Edel seeks to change that. He is transforming an old meatpacking plant in to an experiment in urban food production.
“The Plant” is a net-zero energy mix of greenhouses and aquaponic vertical farms, small food businesses, breweries and light manufacturers. Roughly 80% of the building materials from the industrial site are being reused, so the physical structure itself is a model for adaptive reuse and sustainable development. A team of volunteers from the neighborhood has helped to renovate the building.
One-third of the 93,500 sq. ft. facility is devoted to aquaponic growing systems (closed-loop growing systems using live tilapia and vegetables). Both the fish used and the vegetables grown will be sold to local food markets and restaurants when The Plant is fully up and running.
The remaining two-thirds is being converted in to a food incubator. The Plant focuses on artisanal food businesses, including a brewery (spent grains from the brewery feed the tilapia), bakery, fermented tea manufacturer, and a mushroom farm. Incubating companies reap the benefits of low rent (approx. $8/sq. ft.), low energy costs and a 2,000 sw. ft. licensed shared kitchen.
Manufacturing and food production, traditionally two very energy-intensive industries, combined in a net-zero fashion way? Now there’s an idea.
And The Plant is expected to open doors for residents in Chicago’s economically distressed Back of the Yards neighborhood. By 2015, Edel expects The Plant to employ 125 residents. In the longer-term, new jobs will be created by the companies that successfully spin off out of the food incubator.
At ICIC, we advocate for the retention and expansion of both the food and industrial clusters. These clusters produce jobs that are accessible to low-income, low-skilled workers and both provide middle-class wages. The Plant is a unique model that combines these industries using innovative technology and experimentation—in a distressed community, nonetheless.
To learn more about The Plant, visit www.plantchicago.com
BY Amanda Maher on October 23rd, 2012
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