Chicago’s O’Hare Airport is one of the world’s busiest, always bustling, always crowded with throngs of people rushing somewhere on all those planes landing and taking off. Think labor-intensive, energy-intensive, polluted skies and high noise levels.
That is…until the Chicago Department of Aviation (CDA) partnered with a number of local organizations to make a concerted effort to try and improve the situation and make the whole airport environment more “green” (both literally and in terms of environmentally-friendly practices) and sustainable. They developed a bigger plan to manage and save water and energy—such as recycling waste water, capturing rain water, installing solar panels, using wind turbines, planting roof gardens, among others.
We find one example of this philosophy at the O’Hare Urban Garden in the mezzanine level of the ORD Rotunda Building, Terminal 2, Concourse G. This opened pretty recently and really is a quiet little green oasis in the great airport cacophony. It’s a small space, but we find it surprisingly restful sitting up there at comfortable chairs and tables set out, overlooking the bustling corridor crossroads below and the airplanes taxi-ing outside.
This is an aeroponic garden—a new concept to me, and I’m sure most people—cutting-edge and environmentally-friendly, developed by CDA and HMS Host Corporation. It produces local, all-natural, pesticide-free produce for airport restaurants close by in the terminal. Some of the plants we see are swiss chard, basil, purple basil, cilantro, dill, parsley, chives, bibb lettuce, gourmet lettuce mix, hananero peppers, edible nasturtium and viola flowers, thyme, origanum, red lettuce and green beans. All yummy!
Aeroponics is a method of growing plants in a water and mineral nutrient solution without soil—a method that provides year-round cultivation; a higher yield per square foot; needs no weeding; uses about 2/3 to ¼ less water; and is typically less expensive.
The information board tells us that this is the world’s first vertical aeroponic garden inside an airport terminal. 26 plant towers are suspended above a 20-gallon reservoir of nutrient solution that is internally pumped through a self-sustainable planting tower. Each vertical Tower Garden holds 44 plants and occupies a small 30-inch circular base. This vertical farm technology uses a small fraction of the space it normally takes to grow the same plants outdoors in the soil.
Seeds are first planted in small cubes of natural rock-based fiber, and then bathed in warm, mineral-rich water. When the seedlings reach a certain size they are transplanted to the Tower Garden and the plant roots are misted with a nutrient solution called Tower Tonic.
It’s fun to learn about this new technology and to see all those green, growing things in such a congested urban setting, and great to know that if you buy a meal at one of the nearby restaurants you may be eating some of these fresh plants.
Go O’Hare! (Thanks to Rod for these pics)