LOCATION + HISTORY
Building on our history of adaptive and creative reuse, we're turning this firehouse into a center for circular economy programming. When complete, The Firehouse will feature shared use indoor growing space for plants and fungi, indoor and outdoor classrooms, maker space, a teaching kitchen, in vessel composting, and community meeting/event space. It will also serve as a hyper local center to collect materials that don't get recaptured in Chicago.
Plant Chicago is located in a former firehouse at the corner of 45th and Marshfield in the Back of the Yards neighborhood. From approximately 1908 to 1978, the building served as a Chicago Firehouse for engine company #33. More recently, it was used for a variety of light industrial purposes, including suitcase manufacturing. Prior to Plant Chicago moving in, the building was vacant for over 3 years.
In 2011 Plant Chicago (PC) was founded as the anchor tenant of The Plant, a collaborative community of food businesses collectively revaluing “waste”. The Plant is a “closed-loop” concept by the for-profit developer, Bubbly Dynamics (John Edel, the sole proprietor of Bubbly Dynamics is also the founder of Plant Chicago). In the early years of this project, PC and Bubbly Dynamics worked closely to slowly and organically renovate the abandoned former pork processing facility into innovative spaces for a community of food businesses. Bubbly focused on reinventing the infrastructure and PC focused on the programs, education, marketing, and supporting the work of the developer and the budding community of small businesses.
In the early years, Plant Chicago worked to build indoor and outdoor farms at The Plant, including the iconic aquaponic farm and indoor mushroom farm. These spaces served to educate and inspire students, visitors, and future entrepreneurs around the possibilities for indoor agriculture. Plant Chicago was the outward facing entity of The Plant, engaging tens of thousands of visitors from all over the world through tours, workshops, and special events and even more through social media channels and international presentations.
For 8 years, PC served as a key support structure for the community of small businesses inside of The Plant and as a connecting thread to the surrounding community. Plant Chicago provided avenues for collaboration through circular economy workshops, knowledge sharing, marketing, and direct to consumer revenue generating opportunities. PC marketed The Plant and its resident businesses through tours, events, website content, social media, and newsletters. PC was also a valuable bridge to the surrounding Back of The Yards (BOTY) neighborhood through farmers markets, free science education programs, summer internships for youth, and numerous community events. Perhaps most importantly, PC recruited and coordinated thousands of volunteers to help with programs and adaptive reuse of the 92,500 square foot facility.
Over our 8 years at The Plant, Plant Chicago provided workshops and tours for over 60,000 people! Our work provided direct benefits of over $500,000 to the small business community co-located in the facility, and many thousands in indirect benefits. Numerous PC volunteers and interns went on to work for businesses at The Plant, and some even started their own! From 2015-2019, our farmers market grew from a fold out table to a year-round event featuring over 20 vendors and up to 600 visitors per market. Ever collaborative, Plant Chicago worked on over two dozen research projects, many in partnership with local academic research institutions.
As building renovation activities lessened in 2018, the building owner gained more capacity to take on a more visible leadership role in the project. PC began transferring activities including marketing, retail operations, special event coordination, and R&D to Bubbly Dynamics, the for-profit owner of the facility. Plant Chicago started looking for another location that would support our mission to cultivate local circular economies, as well as our vision for circularity to bring equity and economic opportunity to all residents. At the end of 2019, PC said goodbye to the community located inside The Plant and moved to an abandoned firehouse in the center of BOTY.
The Plant is now entirely composed of a community of small for profit businesses, which is a huge success not just for a small non-profit like Plant Chicago, but for the developer, small business community and the thousands of volunteers that gave their time to help. Without their collective efforts, the project known as The Plant would not exist. While some lament the fact that the project no longer incorporates elements such as aquaponics, mycology, general public workshops, or K-12 education, all of these activities can still be found just a few blocks away at Plant Chicago’s new home at The Firehouse.