Local man turning warehouse into vertical farm

October 21, 2011 (CHICAGO)

He calls his space, "the Plant." It's still in it's early stages of development, but John Edel is sure his goal of turning an old warehouse on W. 46th Street in Chicago into a vertical farming community will become a model that stretches across the country. He expects to help the food industry to "live green."

"We're setting out to revolutionize how food is grown," Edel said.

Edel may not seem like a typical farmer. That's because he is not.

"This is the first vertical farm anywhere and what that means is we're growing on multiple floors of the building," he said.

The old building in the Back-of-the-Yards neighborhood used to be the Peer Meat Packing Plant. When it shuttered several years ago, about 400 jobs were lost. Edel believes his plan to repurpose the warehouse as a home to sustainable food-related businesses would bring back many of those jobs.

"What we're looking for are bakers and brewers and people that are making food that they're going to sell locally," he said.

While much of the building is still under construction, he is testing out an aquaponics growing system in one area - raising greens and other vegetables using the nutrient-rich waste from tilapia.

"It's a very efficient way of growing. It's organic. It's non-toxic. There's no fertilizer involved whatsoever," Edel said.

Eventually, Edel expects to market his crops and bring another fresh food option to the community.

"What I'm hoping to do is to bring some of those jobs back," he said. "We want to make the food where the food is consumed. It's about local."

Thanks to a 1.5 million dollar grant from the state, the Plant will install an anaerobic digester. That's basically a giant composter built with a turbo fighter jet engine. It will collect up to 32 tons of waste a day and use it to make it's own electricity and supply the building's heating and cooling system. For more information visit www.plantchicago.com

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