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Fostering Sustainability and Innovation in Agriculture
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Aeroponic Garden Lands in Chicago’s O’Hare Airport

September 21, 2011 |

Airports and fresh produce are traditionally not two things that go hand in hand. Between the fast food joints as far as the eye can see and the carts selling sandwiches and salads from who-knows-where, sustainable or locally grown food is not on the list of dining options in most major travel hubs in the United States.

Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport is looking to change that with the opening of the O’Hare Urban Garden, an aeroponic garden located on the mezzanine level of the second-busiest airport in the world.  

“Producing and purchasing locally grown foods supports the CDA’s commitment to sustainability by strengthening the local economy and job market, providing a unique learning opportunity for travelers, and reducing urban sprawl, traffic congestion, habitat loss, and pollution from transportation of produce,” Chicago Department of Aviation Commissioner Rosemarie S. Andolino said in a press release.

The 928-square-foot aeroponic garden features nearly 50 different kinds of vegetables and herbs including sweet basil, Habanero peppers, green beans, lettuce mix, thyme, oregano and chives. Tortas Frontera, Wicker Park Seafood & Sushi, Blackhawks Restaurant and Tuscany will all be serving the produce in the O’Hare terminal.

Aeroponic farming, in case you didn’t know, is the process of growing plants in an air or mist environment without the use of soil or an aggregate medium.  Aeroponic growing systems, which leverage carbon dioxide from the air, nutrient infused water in the form of mist delivered to plant roots, and a light source either artificial (fluorescent, LED, etc.) or from the sun to enable plant growth can be located indoors inside of a building or even an airport, underground, and stacked on top of one another.

The O’Hare Urban Garden is made up of 26 eight foot tall cylindrical growing towers that will produce food year-round. Plants are watered for 15 minutes every half hour, and all water that isn’t absorbed by the plants is recycled by a special irrigation system in the garden. Special grow lights provide the necessary “sunlight” for the plants, and additional nutrients will be delivered via a mineral nutrient solution.

The garden was a joint effort between the Chicago Department of Aviation and HMSHost, O’Hare’s food, retail and beverage provider. Funding came from HMSHost, and was in response to “the growing demand from travelers for fresh local produce,” President and CEO Elie Maalouf told CBS news.

“This is a great example of how HMSHost is looking at innovative methods of sustainability, in an effort to learn more about how we can further integrate these and other sustainable practices into our business,” said Maalouf in a press release.

The garden is the first of its kind, and points towards a brighter and more sustainable future for places that see thousands of hungry flight passengers every day.

Passengers going through Concourse G in O’Hare will be able to get a firsthand look at the garden as well as see an exhibit that describes the positives of aeroponic farming. If you’re stopping for a bite in any of the four restaurants supplied by the garden, you’ll also have the opportunity to enjoy the freshest kind of produce available – airport to table. Now there’s a phrase no one could have conceived 20 years ago.


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