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The Plant to Gather Food Trucks, Art and Music

By Casey Cora | July 24, 2013 7:49am

BACK OF THE YARDS — Food trucks, artists, musicians and bike-based businesses will converge for a rally to support sustainable agriculture and eco-friendly business.

But it’s not happening in the trendy North Side neighborhoods, the epicenter of Chicago's outdoor weekend foodie revelry. Instead, it’s taking place in an industrial stretch of the South Side, at a former meatpacking facility turned sustainable food production facility known as The Plant.

"Just because there's not coffee shops or record stores doesn't mean people don't want to hang out here," said program director Shelby Phillips at Plant Chicago, a nonprofit that helps with education and research efforts inside The Plant.

The Plant’s Food Truck Rally rally takes place 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at 1400 W. 46th St. Vendors include Beavers Donuts, Bombay Wraps, Curried, Porkchop, Dalia's Cocina and Bridgeport Pasty.

There will be live painting by an artist, a few live music acts, coffee drinks from The Brew Hub, a mobile bike cart serving specialty coffee drinks, and a cameo by Pedal to the People, a Bridgeport-based mobile bicycle repair shop. Various homebrewing clubs will be offering samples to those 21 and over.

Kids can pay a visit to the Storybus, aka "America's Children's Museum on Wheels," as well as the  Nature's Little Recyclers program.

Admission is $5 in advance (buy here) or $7 at the door.

"It's a food truck rally, but we want to make it a community thing. Our focus is to get people down here ... and talking about what we do," Phillips said.

Tours of the building will be offered throughout the day, but most of the activities take place outside the facility, in area that’s part gravelly industrial parking lot and part outdoor farm. Eventually, Phillips said, the majority of the lot will be farmable.

Also outside The Plant, construction is underway on an estimated $3 million anaerobic digester system that will intake food waste — spent grain from Chicago breweries, fat and grease from nearby rendering and meatpacking plants, food scraps from universities — and convert it into biogas that will feed a generator providing heat and power to the building.

That’s a big project.

But The Plant is filled with smaller projects and businesses, too.

Current tenants in the 93,500-square-foot facility include the aquaponic farm Green and Gills, Arize Kombucha brewery, Peerless Bread and Jam and Pleasant House Bakery, which uses The Plant's farm and kitchen space to supply its Bridgeport restaurant.

Plans for a new brewery that will take over a majority of the space at The Plant remain in the works, Phillips said.

All of that is in addition to the work done by Plant Chicago, the nonprofit that runs its own aquaponic farm and mushroom cultivation room inside the building and a plot of farm outside of it. It's all geared toward education and research of a closed-loop model of food production.

And then there’s the Hugelkultur, a snakelike mound sprouting with produce situated on a side corner of the Plant’s parking lot.

The creation is based on the concept of permaculture, which prioritizes a mix of agriculture and ecological design. The compost heaps — which are already beginning to yield tomatoes, lettuce and cabbage — are made of little more than stacked, untreated wood buried in soil that winds its way around tree stumps, sculptures and a hammock.

Taken together, it's just a small showcase of what Phillips and others say is possible within the scope of the Plant's "social enterprise model."

But first, it all takes money.

Events like open house fundraisers and last year's inaugural food truck rally, as well as donations from small foundations and individuals, help support the nonprofit group's efforts.