Saturday, October 12, 2013

Review of Tour at "The Plant" vertical farm in Chicago

For some time I have been eager to get down to the Back-of-the-Yards neighborhood and tour The Plant - an experiment in vertical farming located inside an old meatpacking facility. How cool is that? Well - for me it turned out to be not so cool, it was an outing that I do not recommend at this time.  I bet in 3-5 years it will be an awesome venue.

OK - what I liked about it. The fundamental premise of the organization and the mission it serves. That's what got me there. I wanted to see the hydroponics lab too!

Let me give you an over view of the tour - which ran about an hour, and cost me $20 for my friend and I.

- Introduction (15 minutes) - in the lobby area I was provided an overview of The Plant organization and facility. The tour guide also educated visitors on the closed loop system and linkages between various parts of The Plant that are planned or anticipated future developments. Key here is future - much of The Plant facility is still in a state of disarray or construction. The introduction presented essentially the exact information which is available on the website. Visual aids were pages from printer taped to the wall. :(

- Review of future brewery location (10 minutes) - we walked to a large room, full of rubble, which will eventually house a brewery. Here there were posters on the wall discussing the principles of anaerobic digestion, and we were provided an overview on this science. We also looked out the windows to the vegetable garden below. 

The Plant, Chicago - hydroponic garden - 2013
- Tour through lower level - (12 minutes) he we walked by an area where mushrooms were grown. The door was shut, there was nothing to see.  We then went into the Hydroponic garden to see floating beds of lettuce and other greens and tanks that housed the tilapia.  There was another brief discussion of the principals of the vertical farm (same material reviewed previously).  While there were folks working here and discussion of the science and study occurring - we were not treated to any additional insight to their learnings. The set-up itself seems kludgy - well I'm used to touring manufacturing sites with lots of automation and sleek equipment, maybe this is as good as it gets.

Hydroponic greens - The Plant, Chicago




Fish tanks, Hydroponics garden, The Plant



- Tour of food production areas (20 minutes)  - Here we walked through old meat preparation areas and old smoking units.  We learned the plans of the organization for this space. I was hit by the very strong odor still remaining from the smokers. The most interesting part for me was that one of the individuals on the tour had worked at this facility back in the day when it was meat processing. His stories were excellent - if not a bit gory at the same time.  We saw two areas in current production of baked goods. This was a very lean operation for small scale production.  If you've toured the Eli's Cheesecake Factory here in town, you will understand the low volume nature of this test-kitchen.  


The Plant, Chicago - old smoker room. 2013
The Plant, Chicago, future shared kitchen space. 2013

- View of Anaerobic digester - look out the window to see the machine which we learned of earlier.  This will eventually be used to generate energy from food and plant waste material. Great idea! 
the Eisenmann anaerobic digester, The Plant

That was it. End of the tour. I had hoped to see more items in operation or to learn more about their findings.  I wanted to know more than I learned on the website. I was disappointed. That said - I do support the mission and direction The Plant is going.

If you do head to The Plant for a tour, pop around the corner to Garfield Park Conservatory afterwards for a bit of green, it will round out your day :) 

For some reason, singing the Oscar Mayer wiener song...

Teresa Marie
Harvesting Hydroponic Garden - The Plant