9th November 2017

Tour of The Plant

The Plant is a former meatpacking factory on the South Side converted into a shared premises for numerous small-scale food production businesses, with an in-house non-profit organisation called Plant Chicago who support communication between the businesses to promote trading of waste products for new uses and collaboration on particular processes to save energy - thereby reducing costs and environmental impact.

We were shown around by Liz Lyon, who works for the non-profit. This began with a tour and explanation of the aquaponics system in the basement, and continued around the building explaining the production linkages between independent manufacturers - for example, the waste water from one business is fed into an algae production system, which in turn creates food for the freshwater fish living in the basement (whose faeces fertilises the aquaponics crops). Plant Chicago have also recently developed a brick-making compactor that turns discarded grain husks from the brewery on the ground floor into fire bricks to be used to fuel the baking ovens of a tenant on the second floor.

Apparently the building owner bought the entire 100,000ft premises including its remaining contents and fixtures (mostly machinery) for $500,000 in 2007. Some great reuse choices were made - most memorably, the large meat freezers with their industrial strength doors have been transformed into individual toilet cubicles (see below). Though the building owner does expect regular rent payments from tenants, the fees are low because his interest is in the sustainability principles being tested by this experimental collaboration between small-scale food production businesses.

Liz explains the aquaponics closed-loop system.

Meat freezers converted into toilet cubicles.

One of the long-term tenants, who specialises in traditional English pie-making, was happy to come over to our group and explain how his business operates within the wider context of The Plant.