7 Ways Chicago is Becoming the New Beacon of the Sustainable Food Movement

sustainable food
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Chicago is undergoing a foodie revolution. From passing the nation’s largest soda tax to exploring new and intriguing options for local food, the Windy City is making leaps and bounds to become a beacon of sustainability.

Don’t believe us? Here are seven fantastic initiatives the Windy City has undertaken to further the transition to great, sustainable food.

1. MightyVine Restores Damaged Farmland with Tomatoes

Just west of Chicago in the prairie town of Rochelle, IL, indoor tomato grower MightyVine has restored acres of farmland that had been damaged by a developer. The growers use Dutch technology comprising a special diffused glass and radiated heat to grow tomatoes 365 days a year. The super-local tomatoes are delivered to stores just a few hours away in Chicago as soon as they’ve been picked.

Sustainability is particularly important to MightyVine farmers, who have managed to provide a 90 percent water savings over field-grown tomatoes, not to mention reduced pesticide use as compared to most conventional growers.

2. Homestead on the Roof Gets Its Organic Produce Ultra-Locally

You can’t get more local than the organic produce grown on the 3,500-square-foot organic rooftop garden at Homestead on the Roof. Executive Chef Scott Shulman has his pick of herbs, chilies, tomatoes, peas, and more to concoct his versatile, seasonal menu, which is served on the 85-seat patio that sits right next to the rooftop garden, which also features two vertical hanging gardens, and dozens of planter boxes.

3. Daisies Keeps Local Produce in the Family

When Daisies opened last month, Chef Joe Frillman realized his dream of combining his passion for handmade pasta and locally sourced crops, almost all of which come from Frillman’s brother’s farm in nearby Prairie View, IL. But Frillman is taking the old trope of locally sourced ingredients to the next level, with the goal of rolling out an in-house fermentation program, too.

Daisies is also making strides in recycling cooking oil: used cooking oil is donated to be recycled for biodiesel, and the resulting profits are donated to charity.

4. Slow Food Chicago Highlights the Importance of Community Gardening

Member-supported non-profit Slow Food Chicago is one of the largest chapters of Slow Food USA, with more than 500 members. Its myriad projects include the preSERVE Garden, a project created in 2010 in cooperation with the North Lawndale Greening Committee, the Chicago Honey Co-Op, and NeighborSpace.

In 2013, the city lot harvested more than 430 pounds of food from 31 different crops, and the garden continues to grow today.

5. The Urban Canopy Attacks the Problem of Nutrition in Schools on the Local Level

Founded in 2011, the Urban Canopy comprises an indoor growing space and a two-acre community farm in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago. But more than mere growers, the Canopy members see themselves as “educators and advocates for the urban food movement.”

Founder Alex Poltorak’s vision began while working with Chicago Public Schools as an Education Pioneer Fellow. After exploring how nutrition affects children in school, he was inspired to create the project to utilize idle urban spaces to attack this problem at the community level. Through volunteer availabilities, a Compost Club, and a CSA, the group endeavors to “make farming as easy as possible on as many unused spaces as possible.”

6. Chicago O’Hare Brings Gardening to the Gate

An unused mezzanine space of Chicago O’Hare Airport’s G terminal has been transformed into the world’s first “aeroponic” garden by Future Growing LLC. The garden, made up of a series of vertical PVC towers where herbs, greens, and tomatoes are grown, uses a mere five percent of the water normally used for farming.

The produce grown in the airport is used by local chefs, including Wolfgang Puck, who runs a restaurant in the airport.

7. Marty Travis Transforms Nutrient-Sapped Soil into Sustainable Farmland

Marty Travis is a seventh-generation Illinois farmer. As his farming community fell victim to Big Ag, Travis decided to do something about it. He created Spence Farm, a 160-acre beacon of biodiversity where he grows a variety of ancient grains and heirloom fruits and vegetables and raises heritage breed livestock, nearly all of which is sold locally to chefs in Chicago. His story of preserving the history and practice of small sustainable family farming in is told in the film Sustainable Food.

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Emily Monaco
Emily Monaco

Emily Monaco is an American food and culture writer based in Paris. She loves uncovering the stories behind ingredients and exposing the face of our food system, so that consumers can make educated choices. Her work has been published in the Wall Street Journal, Vice Munchies, and Serious Eats.