By Tyler Falk
Posting in Energy
An old Chicago meat-packing plant could become the symbol of the new urban food system.
The Plant is a three-story aquaponic farm in Chicago's Back of the Yards Park, a neighborhood that inspired Upton Sinclair's critical look at the meat-packing industry (among other things) in The Jungle. But this story's far from dystopian, as an exciting new project is transforming a former meat-packing plant into a producer of fresh produce and new businesses.
Growing food will only be one part of the 93,000 square foot building. The vertical farm will only take up about one-third of the building space. The rest will be an incubator for sustainable food businesses, offering low rent, low energy costs, and a shared kitchen, to startups. There will also be a brewery, called New Chicago Brewery, a company that makes kombucha tea, an artisanal bakery, a mushroom farm, and two aquaponics companies -- Skyygreens Aquaponics (which will run the vertical farm) and 312 Aquaponics (which will develop aquaponics technologies). All of these projects will help make The Plant a net-zero operation. Jim Parks does a nice job of explaining how it all works in the video below:
The venture has been years in the making, renovating the building, gathering permits and licenses for the various operations, but The Plant is becoming more and more operational and expects to be completely up-and-running by 2015.
The Plant will operate under a social enterprise model, meaning there are some aspects that are for-profit and some that are non-profit. But both sides have goals social and environmental responsibility.
Are projects like The Plant the new "industrial"? I hope so.
Photo: Plant Chicago/Flickr
Apr 9, 2012
As the building has a flat roof, solar panels could be installed, which would then provide electricity for the LED lighting inside, which could be tuned to the correct frequency for best plant growth. This type of lighting does not produce any significant heating effect, so keeping the place at a suitable temperature should be fairly easy. Vegetables to be grown should be selected by their commercial value. At the moment in the USA. Vast areas of land are taken up producing sweetcorn, which is used for animal feed(the animals should be fed on grass, of course) and producing corn syrup. Guess who provides the seeds? Monsta no! Sorry that was a spelling mistake! I meant Monsatan. I'll get it right in a minute! Any fish poop could be converted to fertiliser.
The idea is wonderful, however the effects are not entirely true. Anerobic digesters have wide fluctuations in efficiency and lose a high percentage of extracted energy to heat emmission. The material extracted from a digester (it is acommon misconception that the feed into a digestor is gone after the process) has not lost much volume but has turned into a significantly more difficult to handle waste product. Especially the waste materials you refer to can be dried and pelletized in a non-thermal, high efficiency technology with significantly lower emission than the digester. The resulting pellets can be fed into a powerplant which will return the resulting BTU credit to the project in form of electricity. Food for thought?
I remember reading Upton Sinclair's The Jungle years ago and the irony of this project taking shape in an old meat-packing plant is not lost on me. This is exactly the kind of work we should be pursuing across the country. Bravo to the engineers and entrepreneurs that designed this system. With the planet approaching 9 billion people in 2050, I believe we will see thousands of these kinds of systems sprouting up all over the place as a supplement to modern farm practices. To be sure, this model will not replace industrial farming, but it will offer an alternate way of growing food with little to no impact on our fragile ecosystem.
As population growth migrates towards the Urban centers and as demand for sustainable carbon neutral food grows, such projects are going to be required. I would raise my hat to the folks that have pioneered and worked out the model that can be further refined and developed across the globe. I would like to become involved in this or similar projects for sure.
Lets see.... Basically no need for pesticides. Absolute minimal use of fertilizer and no chmical runoff to pollute oceans or lakes (can we say "ocean dead zones"). Incredibly efficient use of water. Basically no transportation costs (typically 15% for farm produced foods)... Well, I guess that says enough. I'm an ecologist and up to now the only relatively stable farming methods have been terrace farming where the soil can be brought from bottom to top. This sort of just makes it high tech. I bet they could include human waste composting techniques that have been shown to be very safe and effective. ... Hey... and I have a bunch of even cooler ideas. Lets plan to grow up people... if we want to survive.
While it may help in the urban areas of India and China where 1 billion of that growth is expected, what good will this do in Afica where another 1 billion of that population growth is expected?
I didn't hear anybody making claims about the veggies being "Organic", which would indicate a complete absence of chemical fertilizers and insecticides. The need for insecticides should be minimized by the fact that the farm is contained in a building. It's not so easy to completely seal off a building from plant pests, so I have a wait and see attitude about this. As for using "composted human waste", you may get away with putting this into the anearobic digester to provide gas for the generator, but I'm pretty sure that it would be an illegal practice in the U.S. to use this as fertilizer or fish food. As for growing Tilapea (my least favorite fish), I wish them the best of luck in cleaning their waste water and not letting vast quantities of horrible fish poop escape their facitlity. I have visited fish farms in Israel, which grew this fish. The smell is horrendous. It's also necessary to put a specific variety of carp (Black Carp) into the water purification system in order to eat snails, which would otherwise clog up the system. The closed system idea is great. The smaller carbon footprint is great. It's just not the bed of roses you may think it is. It's not so ugly, like watching the preparation of sausages, but it ain't pretty either.
Thanks for pointing out those things PSFTGURU. The real world details are what the academics designing these types of projects are prone to overlooking. Remember biosphere 2? Many an ego was deflated when things did not go according to the plan. The structure has actually turned into a nice laboratory once scientists were able to admit they did not have all the answers needed to create such a closed loop place.