The Plant: An Old Chicago Factory is Converted into a No-Waste Food Factory

© Flickr user Plant

The old red-brick building sporting a “BEER” sign may not look impressive, but what is going on inside certainly is. “The Plant” is an indoor vertical farm that triples as a food-business incubator and research/education space located inside an 87-year old meat packing factory in the Union Stockyards of Chicago, .  The project was partly funded by the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity with a $1.5 million grant.  Browse through the Plant Chicago’s Flickr Photostream and you can watch the space steadily transform into an urban farm that will grow fresh produce, farm fresh fish, brew beer and produce kombucha all while recycling the waste of the facility to make it a Net-Zero Energy System.

How does it work? Follow us after the break to learn more.

The Plant, currently being refurbished, is housed in a 93,000 square foot facility, one third of which will be a host to aquaponic growing systems.  The rest of the building space will serve as an incubator for sustainable food businesses, offering low rent, low energy costs, and a planned licensed shared kitchen.  The heart of this building, which will enable it to perform its operations, keep 10,000 tons of food waste out of landfills and produce heat and power for the building, is the anaerobic digester – a system that uses micro-organisms to break down biodegradable matter and can be used to produce bio-gas, a product of these natural systems.

© Flickr user Plant Chicago

The systems of the building, both natural and mechanical, operate on a continuous loop and rely on one another.  With the 27-ton per day estimate of biomass fed into the anaerobic digester, The Plant will produce 400 kWh of electricity in a combined heat and power system, as well the as the heat necessary for the New Chicago Beer Company’s 12,000 square foot brewery.  Recycling the biomass will produce bio gas which will power a turbine generator that will produce both electricity and steam.  The steam will be used for the heating and cooling systems of the building and the electricity will be used to power, among other things, grow lights for the plants in the aquaponic system.

© Flickr user Plant Chicago

The aquaponic system is just as efficient at recycling energy and resources as the anaerobic digester.  Aquaponics, as The Plant describes it, is a combination system of aquaculture (the tilapia farm) and hydroponics (a system for growing plants in water instead of soil).  The plants clean the fish’s water.  The fish produce ammonia and nitrates which are fed back into the plants and allows them to clean the water for the fish.  The plants produce oxygen, which is used by the Kombucha brewery.  In turn, the brewery produces excess carbon dioxide, which goes into feeding the plants.  Both plants and fish are farmed and provide food to the community.

© Flickr user Plant Chicago

The New Chicago Brewery also has a role in this process.  It uses the spent grains of the brewing process to feed the fish.  A mushroom farm on location will also use the fish’s waste to fertilize its mushrooms.  These are just a few examples of the types of interconnected businesses that are being established as part of the plant.  ”One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” – the saying is no more true than in this facility.

© Flickr user Plant Chicago

Ultimately the plant will create 125 jobs in the Back of the Yards neighborhood, it will be a model for future endeavors to convert old buildings into urban farms, it will provide fresh and local produce, fish, beer and kombucha to the neighborhood, and it will collect organic waste from nearby businesses thereby further alleviating landfills of food waste. In order to make this solution sustainable and adaptable, Plant Chicago will be sharing its financial and technical information in the years to come.  These types of urban farms can transform the way our cities run: where we prioritize our funds, how we determine infrastructure, how we build community.  Bright Farms, an organization that develops and establishes urban farms,  is already addressing some of these concerns, bringing communities back to a local level through food production and inspiring businesses to localize and take responsibility for the cities in which they are situated.

via Plant Chicago
via Good Design; A Former Chicago Meatpacking Plant Becomes a Self-Sustaining Vertical Farm by Julie Ma
Photos via Flickr user Plant Chicago; Licensed through Creative Commons
Video via Today’s Green Minute with Jim Parks on You Tube; The Plant: My Beer Feeds Your Fish!

Cite: Vinnitskaya, Irina. "The Plant: An Old Chicago Factory is Converted into a No-Waste Food Factory" 07 May 2012. ArchDaily. Accessed 30 May 2015. <>