Urban farming is being taken to new heights in an abandoned Chicago pork processing plant where environmentalists hope to “get off the grid” by using the waste from one crop to feed and power another.
Schools of tilapia are already swimming in water cleaned by the roots of leafy greens that feed on the nitrogen and other nutrients in the fish waste.
A bakery is moving in that will be able to use mash from the brewery upstairs to fire its oven.
And a generator that can convert compost into bio-gas to power everything from the grow lights to the air conditioning is expected to be up and running sometime next year.
“What we’re trying to do is teach people that there’s a better way,” said John Edel, who bought the factory dubbed “The Plant” two years ago and is spearheading its development.
“The path we’re on right now is unsustainable,” he told AFP. “We have to do something and we have to do it quickly or we’re all stuck.”
Vertical farming was once relegated to science fiction — the stuff of lunar colonies or dystopian metropolises.
It was too costly to try to build — and heat — multi-storey greenhouses and it didn’t make sense when farmland was so cheap, abundant and fertile.
A growing interest in locally-produced, sustainable food — coupled with increased concern about the impact of climate change and population growth on available, good farmland — has spurred scores of experiments with vertical farming.
So far, it hasn’t proven to be commercially viable. But that doesn’t mean it won’t be.
“What you’re looking at right now are the early stages of a Thomas Edison light bulb,” said Dickson Despommier, a professor of public health at Columbia University, and author of “The Vertical Farm”.
The potential benefits are huge.