Soap & Salad: Chicago Style

Coastal green cleaning and urban rooftop farming converge in America’s Heartland on Chicago’s South Side. Method Products from San Fran, and Gotham Greens from Brooklyn have recently announced a partnership in sustainability at Method’s new manufacturing facility in the Pullman Neighborhood. The world’s largest rooftop hydroponic farm will be operational there in Spring 2015.

That’s not all there is to get bubbly about on this project. It’s the first of it’s kind in many ways.

This is the first U.S. production facility for Method, and the first ever LEED Platinum-certified production plant in the packaged goods industry. It’s also the first farm that the manufacturer-built Pullman neighborhood has likely seen in about a century. There is a lot of history there, and like the Pullman Company’s futuristic vision that created it originally, it’s renewal is just as forward thinking. It’s totally fresh.

Method’s new location features wind and solar power, along with more green space than pavement and factory – an about face from industrial land use of the past. The 22-acre parcel planning devotes farm more area that will be maintained by the soap company as grounds, with only 5 acres earmarked for production and vehicles. Instead of surrounding their interests with the predictable tall fence, a sidewalk will mark the perimeter of their Chicago holdings. They want the neighborhood to enjoy what will become park-like. The landscape plan calls for native plants; trees that were indigenous before anyone cleared or developed the land around Chicago, along with native grasses and perennials. They also would like to turn some of that open space into community garden that residents can use for growing fruits and vegetables.

That alone is a fresh way of grounds planning. Most commercial and industrial complexes would treat all that space like a regularly mowed hay field, acres of parched stubby grass intermittently sprouting from poor soil. Zoning will always call for a green screen – rows of trees planted on the property boundaries, but those are always the cheapest trees they can find. Here they see the brilliance of planting trees native to the soil composition they have. No maples, it will be oaks and hickory, and there will be no irrigation system.

Atop this landmark LEED Certified industrial center, Gotham Greens is installing the largest rooftop farm in the world. Their new state-of-the-art greenhouses will also offset energy use with solar panels, and utilize their custom-designed recirculating hydroponic growing systems. This massive 75,000 square feet under glass will produce over a million pounds of hyper-local, top quality food a year. Just as they are known for in New York, Gotham’s fresh food will be grown without the use of chemical pesticides. It will sell at farmers markets in the area, and to restaurants and grocery stores.

For the residents of the food desert that Pullman currently is, this means their quality of life is about to experience a major boost, not just nutritionally, but economically as well. Gotham Greens brings 40 new jobs to the neighborhood. Method’s new 150,000 square foot facility will offer manufacturing employment to about 100 too. Other development is happening nearby, including the arrival of yet another Walmart store. Residents could see as many as 700 new possibilities for work close to home, because with all this new activity the dining, doctors, services, and shops will move in to cater to those in the hub of new growth. Sort of a Phoenix rising from the ashes that have existed since Pullman went out of business.

So, soap and salad it is, and while urban farming and eco-friendly cleaning products might make an odd couple at first glance, it’s an excellent way to move into a brighter future. Chicago has embraced urban farming with more interest than most cities in the interior. For some reason people on the coasts seem to be ahead of the rest of the US in envisioning the way things could be instead of mourning for what was. That’s what fresh and new is all about. It’s not something one finds beating a dead horse. Locating it means embracing change, change for the good of everyone, not just the bottom line. Here’s proof that you can be profitable and sustainable without green washing your business or products, and change the local economy and quality of life while you’re at it.

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Tammy Clayton

Contributing Writer at Garden Culture Magazine

Tammy has been immersed in the world of plants and growing since her first job as an assistant weeder at the tender age of 8. Heavily influenced by a former life as a landscape designer and nursery owner, she swears good looking plants follow her home.