A day at The Plant ...

Interviews with tenants of The Plant at the second annual Food Truck Rally at The Plant, July 27, 2013.Last weekend there was a "Food Truck Rally" down at The Plant, and tenants of the green-tech incubator were invited to set up info/vending tables. Now, in interest of full disclosure, I'm working with Nature's Little Recyclers (Ed's company), so was down there wearing my "worm biz" hat most of the day ... only switching into my "blogger" hat at the end to snag some interviews for this post.

We lucked out on the weather, as it was overcast and in the 70's, so was ideal for hanging around outside ... and there was a bigger crowd in attendance than I'd been expecting. Obviously, the folks selling drinks, produce, and snack items did a considerably bigger business than we did (we had compost and seed bombs for sale, and were giving out half-liter samples of vermitea fertilizer), but it was a good day for explaining the whole "urban vermiculture" process, and chatting with folks in the "green" niche.

The first person I grabbed for an interview was Jana Kinsman of Bike A Bee who was set up at a table right next to ours. She has a beekeeping operation at the plant, one of fifteen locations (to which she bikes - hence the company name) around the city where she has hives established. As opposed to "varietal" honey based on monoculture farming (where mobile hives are taken out to fields of one crop, resulting in a particular flavor honey), Kinsman favors an approach of having one product that includes the flavors of the various areas around town where the bees work. Here's what she had to say:

 
Next I caught up with Nathan Wyse of Arize Kombucha ... I must admit that I had never even tried Kombucha before sampling the flavors (Orange Basil, Ginger Lime, and Blackberry Sage - all quite tasty!) he had out there, so this was new to me. It turns out that Kombucha is a fermented tea that is brewed with a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast ... similar to the way that sourdough bread is made. Wyse has an interesting video on their site about how the Kombucha production works with other systems at the plant with oxygen and carbon dioxide being piped around from project to project. Here he is explaining about the product:

 
While waiting for others to get ready to go on camera, I came back over to get some video of Ed Hubbard (my co-author on this blog) from Nature's Little Recyclers, which has been raising worms (and producing compost and related products) down at The Plant since last Fall. This operation is attempting to take large quantities of high-quality waste (coffee grounds, paper, cardboard, etc.) out of the municipal waste stream (there are over 40 tons of waste coffee grounds produced each week by coffee shops in downtown Chicago alone!), and turn it into a top-notch compost for the booming "urban farming" movement. Here's Ed:

 
I next got a hold of Eric Roth of Greens & Gills, one of the "aquaponics" operations running in the plant. As I posted a couple of months ago, aquaponics is a combination of aquaculture (raising fish) with hydroponics (raising plants in water), where the fish waste feeds the plants and the plants clean up the water that then goes back to where the fish are. While a wide array of herbs and vegetables are being grown in these systems, the fish of choice is Tilapia, being fast growing and thereby less expensive to feed. Roth had this to say about their operation:

 
Finally, I had a chance to speak with Kate Purvis, the Outdoor Farm Coordinator for The Plant, who was standing right in the middle of their raised growing beds. Aside from being an "incubator" for other businesses, The Plant has several "pilot projects" that it runs, including the farm, and the soon-to-be-installed anaerobic digester. Here Ms. Purvis talks about what's being produced currently in the outdoor operation:

 

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