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Farm Tech Intern Projects

Can plants grow in a saltwater aquaponic system?

Project Lead: Katie Ponsot

For this experiment, we are testing plant growth in freshwater verse saltwater aquaponic systems. We began by selecting five species (spinach, kale, rainbow chard, dino kale and sunflowers) that are able to grow and thrive in salty soil. Although these plants already grow successfully in our freshwater aquaponic farm, we wanted to build a small saltwater system and compare differences, such as leaf count, shoot length and survival rate. The Salty Prawn, a neighboring business, gave us access to their shrimp pools in order to build the saltwater system. If the saltwater aquaponic system has successful plant growth, then we would consider building a larger system for Plant Chicago.

Can tilapia survive and thrive on spent beer grain?

Project Lead: Katie Ponsot

Spent grain, the remnants from the beer making process, can constitute as much as 85 percent of a brewery’s total by-product. At Plant Chicago, we strive to create circular economies in which one business’s waste is another business’s input (in this case fish food). Whiner Beer Company is a brewery in The Plant that creates spent grain. We want to test this grain as a replacement for the commercial (and expensive!) fish food we are currently feeding our tilapia in the aquaponic farm. If the fish could survive and thrive off of the grain, this would reduce or eliminate feed cost as well as reduce waste by the brewery. For this experiment we are testing four tanks of tilapia each with 22 fish. One tank will be fed commercial feed only, another tank will eat only grain and the other two will trade off both feeds. We took their initial average weights and will reweigh again after one month of testing and do a final weight after two months. Based on these numbers, we will decide if spent grain is a viable, nutrient rich food source for the tilapia.

Medicinal Plants

Project Lead: Jason Moon

For this research project we want to see what types of medicinal plants (other than medical marijuana) could be grown in a controlled environment. We have experience in working with controlled environment agriculture systems, and our newest intern, Jason from Loyola, has an interest in medicinal plants. Many indoor farming facilities including Plant Chicago’s demonstration farm focus on growing plants that can be eaten or sold for produce. By exploring the diversification of crop selection to include non produce plants, we can begin to expand the potential of indoor farms in cities like Chicago, . For this project we are growing several different types of medicinal plants including: Aloe Vera, Epazote, Valerian, Chamomile, and Rue. Many of these plants were chosen based on the recommendations from visitors who have had some experience using these plants for medicinal purposes in their own homes. Ultimately this project looks to see if there is would be potential interest in purchasing medicinal herbs by local residents.

If you have any questions or recommendations regarding this or any of our farm technology projects please feel free to contact our Farm Technology Coordinator at


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