Mindful Metropolis February 2010 : Page 13

growing power aquaponics aquaranch greenhouse myles harston, aquaranch growing power aquaponics photos BY: marK andreW Boyer ter that, when excreted, creates a great deal of water pollution. At AquaRanch, not only is the waste water fi ltered by the vegetables, but water is used more effi ciently than any other form of organic farming. “While we have a lot of water, the only wa- ter we really lose is through some cleaning and evaporation; we don’t lose it through the soil,” Harston explains. “It’s probably some- where around 2 percent of the water that would traditionally be used outdoors.” Shiller and Harston aren’t the only ones who see visions of kale and tilapia when they look at shuttered Chicago buildings. Devel- oper John Edel has similar designs for a large city-owned building in the 1800 block of West Pershing Road. Edel doesn’t have much expe- rience working with aquaponics, so he’s en- listing the help of a class of Illinois Institute of Technology students to help with the project. He does have a proven track record of rehab- bing derelict old buildings, as he demonstrat- ed when he converted a 24,000 square-foot warehouse in Bridgeport into the Chicago Sustainable Manufacturing Center. From the roof of that building, Edel, a thin man who sports a red beard and a cardigan sweater, stands and points to a row of large brick buildings on Pershing Road. Edel hasn’t acquired the property yet, but he already has architect renderings of the vertical farm and an elaborate rooftop greenhouse. Th e 600,000 square-foot building he has his sights on is roughly 25 times the size of his previous de- velopment, but Edel is undaunted. Th e building has good bones, he says. “Th ese former Board of Education buildings were actually built for the army during World War I,” says Edel somewhat hopefully, suggest- ing that it might already be strong enough to support the weight of water used in an aqua- ponics system. Th e zoning code must be resolved in order to start any farming operation that involves fi sh in Chicago, but energy costs will determine the long-term viability of aquaponics in the city. Neither Shiller’s Salvation Army building nor Edel’s Board of Education building will benefi t from the passive solar heat and UV rays that greenhouses enjoy. Th ey’re brick-and-mortar buildings that will need to be heated and lit in order to keep fi sh and plants alive. Both have expressed interest in using LED lights because they use less energy than traditional grow lights, but LED lights still need to be powered for nine months of the year. “My goal is that whatever we do there, all of it needs to be driven by green technologies and energy savings,” Shiller says of the Salva- tion Army building in Uptown, but everyone has a diff erent idea of what that means. Harston wants to experiment with ethanol that’s made from unconventional sources, like cattails, sugar beets and food waste. Edel prefers wind energy, and he points to Testa Produce, a nearby produce distributor in Back of the Yards which is building a large wind turbine for its new facilities, as a model that he might try to replicate. For her part, Shiller isn’t ready to commit to one particular alternative energy source. “We’d like it to be a demonstration place for diff erent wind tech- nologies and for solar technologies,” she says. “I think everyone just wants to see what is out there and try it all.” In October, Edel made a pilgrimage to Mil- waukee to study the techniques used at Grow- ing Power, and he liked what he saw. Growing Power is located in what’s known as an “urban food desert,” a portion of the inner city that lacks healthy food options, and Allen sells fresh vegetables at an on-site retail store. Edel would like to open a similar store at the Pershing Road property, which he says would bring much- needed local food and jobs to the community. In Uptown, Shiller laments that the communi- ty can’t even attract enough farmers for a farm- ers market, so she hopes to fi ll that void. “i believe there’s an enormous and growing market for locally, sustainably produced organic food,” edel says. “What we’re bringing to the table is a creative reuse that will bring hundreds of jobs to the facility and the neighborhood, and it will hopefully be a catalyst for revitalizing that area.” If his and Shiller’s plans succeed, Chicago- ans will have a year-round supply of sustain- ably raised fi sh and organic vegetables, grown right in their backyard. Mark Andrew Boyer is a Chicago-based freelance writer and co-producer of Organic Nation.tv. mindfulmetropolis.com 13

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