Hydroponic Vegetable Garden Will Feed Homeless, High-End Diners

By Lizzie Schiffman Tufano on January 16, 2014 7:08am 

 A rendering of the hydroponic garden planned for 2900 W. Van Buren St.
A rendering of the hydroponic garden planned for 2900 W. Van Buren St.
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EdgeAlliance

CHICAGO — A nonprofit that works with homeless HIV/AIDS patients will build a hydroponic vegetable garden in Garfield Park this spring to help feed its clients, neighbors — and diners at the Signature Room.

Future Growings, a side project of the Garfield Park-based EdgeAlliance, will start construction in early spring on a hydroponic greenhouse on a quarter-acre of vacant land at 2900 W. Van Buren St.

The greenhouse will employ a staff of six veterans and clients in paid part- and full-time positions to harvest produce year-round, EdgeAlliance Chief Operating Officer Mabel Guzman said.

"Our campus houses 120 people that are homeless and HIV/AIDS positive, and 27 are children," Guzman said. "They have very limited funds, and in the middle of the month they start running out of money, and food becomes a critical issue. How will they feed themselves? Will they have access to fresh produce?"

"Especially because they're sick, it's really important that they stay healthy and eat healthy foods. Now they'll have guaranteed access to fresh produce."

The solar-powered greenhouse and soil-free growing system will allow them to harvest vegetables and herbs year-round, which has also caught the attention of chefs at the Signature Room, the high-end restaurant at the top of the John Hancock Building.

"They said 'If you can grow a certain type of arugula offseason, we'll be interested,'" Guzman said.

Selling their excess to restaurants, at farmer's markets and through some retailers, will help cover operating costs for the project, which will cost $200,000 to launch.

That doesn't include the cost of the land. On Wednesday, the City Council agreed to sell the property, appraised at $29,100, to the nonprofit for $1. The city acquired the plot in 1991 due to unpaid property taxes.

EdgeAlliance hopes to open the greenhouse by May, and it's already interviewing job applicants for the operation, Guzman said.

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