Last week, I wrote about a fantastic visit to recirculating farms in NY. Part II of that trip took me to Chicago, IL. There, I visited several new farms: The Plant, 312 Aquaponics and Growing Power.
The Plant is an old 93,500 sq. ft meat packing building that has been cleaned and is slowly being converted, piece-by-piece, into a multi-use commercial building. The vision is to have a large-scale aquaponic farm and variety of other sustainable businesses under one roof. The plant intends to be entirely off the power grid – self-sustaining and maybe even sell back some of its generated energy to the city. We embarked on an impressive and detailed tour on the history of the building, the area and the future for the Plant.
After about an hour, we paused our general Plant tour to visit one of the sustainable businesses already in residence at Plant building – 312 Aquaponics. (For those of you that don’t recognize it – 312 is the area code for most of Chicago). Mario Spatafora showed us all of his innovative set up and explained the details of his farm. The lights he had were particularly interesting – they slowly moved along the beds of greens. This saves on electric while providing enough light for plants to grow. 312 Aquaponics currently sells microgreens and herbs. Hopefully, they will be able to sell their fish soon too. Many local regulations aren’t designed to support recirculating farming and so it can be difficult for farmers to acquire necessary permits to sell their products. The Coalition is working on this nationally, so hopefully Mario and other growers like him will be able to grow and sell as much as they are physically able and not be limited by a lack of appropriate regulations.
We resumed our tour, catching up with the group and Professor Blake Davis, our tour guide, in the basement. There, the Plant houses a teaching aquaponics facility that grows mainly basil and lettuces, along with tilapia. Students from the Illinois Institute of Technology, under the guidance of Professor Blake Davis, are working on the aquaponics system to develop it into a larger commercial enterprise. It was an amazing set-up. The students were clearly excited about having such a great hands-on facility to work with.
Next we stopped in at the new Chicago Growing Power – on Iron Street right on the river. We toured the entire facility, (with one of their super cute resident cats joining us) learning about existing projects and future plans. They are primarily focused on training local youth, and have a wide array of programs – creating fresh soil, making value-added products (like lip balm) from their on-site bee hives, growing mushrooms and more. They are just setting up their aquaponic systems, and are planning to raise perch and tilapia, among other fish. Already, they have a number of other farms that they helped incubate and expand. We look forward to seeing the various ideas they shared with us grow and develop there.
The final leg of the trip was our visit to Milwaukee and nearby Racine, WI – to be covered in our next blog post!