Category Archives: Food

What is permaculture?

Quite simply, permaculture is the human-constructed partnering of plants into communities that produce the greatest human benefit with the least amount of maintenance through emphasizing symbiosis.


The websites, and a fun thread at, offer great tips and techniques for building an environment based on permaculture principles.

Much of permaculture is based around designing to fit the climate of the landscape so there are resources oriented to promoting techniques designed for specific biomes of the world. These are great go-to sites for the basic biomes of the United States:

Permaculture is based on seven principles.

1. Food Forests – Designed plant communities based around companion planting that match species based on nutrient and bacteria sharing and meeting other land use needs for insects, fungi, animals and people.

2. Living Machines – Taking a foundation from practices like xeriscaping and rainwater capture, living machines also clean waste water from other uses on the site to create irrigation and ultimately a potable source.

3. Soil Improvement – Burming up and submerging (or folding in) an additional nutrient base/decomposition layer to expand humus and enhance water percolation. This technique mimics the natural production of humus in grassland areas. The Ohio State University Extension Office lists some factors of soil health.

4. Nutrient Cycles – Imitating biological processes, biomimicry, symbiosis. Poultry, or pork depending on the size of your site, is nature’s nutrient distributor and contributors, and cows are the compactors. To separate the nutrient producers (animals) from the organisms that require nutrients (plants) by inappropriate scaling creates two problems from a natural coexistence. Allowing animals to share the land with the food forest also increases the value of the land by increasing its yield.

5. Biodeversity – Plant and animal responses to environment are the evolutionary regulators to speciation and variation. This is the importance of seed banks and polyfarms. Cultural appreciation for seasonal and locally produced goods increases the value of a food forest yield and decreases the transportation costs. Specialized products will always be in the global market, but the quantity and quality of importation is reflected in Tom Friedman’s glocalization. A kitchen without olive oil is where some aspects of the 100 mile diet are just illogical (kitchen humor), and one should rely more on a 100 mile market for non-specialty items. Flavorless winter strawberries are the flagship; solar-powered greenhouses provide the only vine sweetened strawberries in winter.

6. Ecobuilding – “The function of what I call design science is to solve problems by introducing into the environment new artifacts, the availability of which will induce their spontaneous employment by humans and thus, coincidentally, cause humans to abandon their previous problem-producing behaviors and devices.” – R. Buckminster Fuller, from Cosmography

7. Environmental Economics – A systems symbiosis. In the traditional economic model, externalities and ecosystem services are not factored into the equation. Environmental Economics teaches that system efficiencies directly result in economic efficiencies, and juxtaposing the two is a farce. A permaculture example of economy from environment is using a biodigester for waste: costs of waste disposal are reduced and profit can be generated from energy production. Herman Daly has long been the champion of Environmental Economics.

Food Desert Mapping

Near West Side Site Food Desert Mapping


Site Closeup

The inventory of food provisions in the area confirm Gallagher’s study that Near West Side surrounding UIC is a food desert. Specific to LBC, this inventory can serve as a list of potential businesses that might have waste to process by the plant and/or sell the food and products that are created in the plant. This would serve to imbed the building within the existing marketplace and provide access to wholesale production by local residents.

Population Density around site.

Population Density around site. Data Source: Census Dot Map, Brandon Martin-Anderson


Zoning Map of area around site. Data Source: Second City Zoning


1. Target area set to approximately 0.5 mile radius (2640.5 ft) from center of site, also measured as a 10 minute walk. Businesses located along both sides of the perimeter streets are included.

-Bounding Box: Lake St (N border), Taylor St (S border), Leavitt St (W border), Loomis St (E border)

Target area set to approximately  1 mile radius

(5280 ft) from center of site, also measured as a 20 minute walk. Businesses located along both sides of the perimeter streets are included.

-Bounding Box: Grand Ave (N border), Roosevelt Ave (S border), Western Ave (W border), Halsted St (E border)

2. Three search engines to identify restaurants and stores in the area – Google, Bing, Yelp

3. Three search terms used: grocery store, market, farmers market

3. All results were categorized into three groups: prepared foods, wholesale foods, retail sales. Specialty vendors were excluded (cakes, candies, toffees, prepared diet plans, etc.)

– Prepared foods are predominantly restaurants

– 50% or greater menu items prepared from fresh foods

– 50% or greater menu items prepared from frozen or packaged foods

– Special category for businesses already selling and incorporating local food and produce

*note that Gallagher uses chain grocers, small grocers, all grocers, and fast food. Her target area is much larger, the entire city has that variety, this is more of a case study to identify the site within the existing market.

4. Basic premises that fresher food has greater nutritional value, locations are quantified not by whether they have  “good” food “tasty” food or other categories. “Fresh” food is the metric in a food desert study.


Food Desert_1 mi_categories

Mapping of all food locations around site. A clear food desert.

The legacy of meatpacking lives on in this district, represented by the large proportion of wholesale food distributors located in the area. Only restaurants that also have a food market were included in this preliminary assessment, but, outside of their specialty imports, these locations serve produce that likely comes from a GFS or SYSCO type of provider and do not meet standards for fresh food sources. A few grocery stores exist, but they are on the edge of other neighborhoods, and at the maximum distance residents of the new site should be expected to walk for groceries.

1 mile radius


Food Provision Type


Store sells local produce


Store sells produce


Store does not sell produce


Wholesale produce


Restaurant sources from local


Restaurant menu items 50% or more fresh ingredients


Restaurant menu items 50% or more frozen/packaged ingredients


Closed Grocers and Wholesalers


Specialty Food Services

The general standard for pedestrian accessible food locations is 0.5 miles or a 10 minute walk. Using this definition, it is very clear that the site is at the center of a food desert.

0.5 mile radius


Food Provision Type


Store sells Local Produce


Store sells Produce


Store does not sell produce


Wholesale produce


Restaurant sources from local


Restaurant menu items 50% or more fresh ingredients


Restaurant menu items 50% or more frozen/packaged ingredients


Closed Grocers and Wholesalers


Specialty Food Services

This can also be represented by comparing the total area of the study region to the count of businesses in each.

Ratio of neighborhood area to Total Business Count

Regions Area in sq ft Total Businesses Area to location ratio
0.5 mile radius




1 mile radius




Cost Mitigation Strategy

The Center for Permaculture and Appropriate Technology’s cost mitigation strategy is divided into three sections: Design, Funding Plan, and Monetization.


CPAT architects chose building designs and construction techniques to reduce the costs of constructing the project, and maintaining its structures and natural components.

A large portion of the land is set aside for farming functions so that CPAT becomes a holistic center for education, observation, and study. By dedicating land to outdoor farming, this “Living Building” project becomes a food oasis without the need for the traditional fix of building a large-format grocery store.

Buildings generate their own electricity with renewable power sources and reduce their energy needs over comparably sized buildings by using passive solar design, geothermal energy, integrating high-insulation components (including windows and wall insulation), and heat exchangers. Together, these create a building envelope with a high R-value. Electricity will be generated with photovoltaic solar panels on all buildings and wind turbines distributed across the site..

The geodesic dome is a great example of passive solar design and houses parts of the food forest and water-cleaning wetland living machine. Domes are inexpensive to build compared to traditional, cubic buildings. Domes span hundreds of feet without internal columns; the CPAT dome is only 85 feet wide.

A dome encloses the largest volume with the lowest surface area which affects passive solar design by helping the building to retain warm temperatures in the colder months. The uniformity and modularity of the triangle panels makes manufacturing simple; panel sizes can be modified easily to match a manufacturer’s capabilities.

Many cost reductions will occur during construction.

  • Materials and furnishings will be sourced locally and include reclaimed materials from vendors such as the Rebuilding Exchange.

  • Bricks for the dome’s upper foundation wall will be made manually from site soil.

  • One way to optimize construction phasing is to install the underground water cisterns when the gasoline storage tanks are excavated.

Other design choices to reduce costs include the use of natural materials – rammed earth will cover the west side of the Barn – and green roofs. Day-to-day operations are also affected by Living Building Challenge principles: cargo bicycles will be used to distribute goods around the site instead of powered vehicles.

Funding Plan

The Center for Permaculture and Appropriate Technology will be incorporated as a non-profit organization in order to attract grants and tax-deductible donations. CPAT will take advantage of many tax exemptions, reductions, credits, as well as private and public grants, and the encompassing Tax Increment Financing district (TIF) that provides grants to develop or expand new or existing sites.

The Central West TIF district, as of January 2012, had a balance of $40 million. The TIF district was created with eleven objectives. CPAT’s goal to create an education center selling the food harvested through the learning programs on a brownfield is aligned with four objectives: remediating environmental problems, supporting job training programs, increasing job opportunities for area residents, and preparing sites for retail and commercial investments.

Additional funding opportunities are listed below:

  • United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) beginning farmers program. This would help pay for scholarships for students of the CPAT learning programs.

  • Grants

    • Community Development Block Grant

    • Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity Energy Efficiency Grant

    • Illinois Green Infrastructure Grant

    • Boeing Foundation.  Skills training and economic growth in underserved communities.

  • Tax credits

    • Federal Energy Credit for Energy Efficiency

    • Production Tax Credit (for renewable energy)

  • Chicago Enterprise Zone

    • Sales Tax Exemption

    • Property Tax Reduction

    • Finance Assistance

    • Real Estate Tax Exemption

    • Investment Tax Credit

    • State Jobs Creation Credit

    • Machinery & Equipment Sales Tax Exemption

    • Utility Tax Exemption


There are many opportunities in the Center for Permaculture and Appropriate Technology that provide the organization with revenue. They include:

  • Poultry: Eggs, chickens, chicks, chicken supply

  • Sale of produce, including food grown on site and food grown in external urban gardens

  • Farmers market rental fees

  • Leases from offices, and retail and coworking spaces

  • Revenue from tuition and room & board

Living Building Materials List

Materials List

  • Rammed earth

  • Recycled timbers

  • FSC-certified, sustainably harvested lumber

  • Furniture: wood, organic fabric

  • Masonry manufactured on site

  • Clay tiles

  • Gypsum board

  • Glass

  • Aluminum

  • Steel

  • Copper

  • Stone

  • WetFlash sealant

  • Stone wool insulation with plant-based binder

  • HDPE plastic piping

  • Locally sourced, toxin-free concrete with high fly ash ratio for building foundations, permeable pavers, and mortar

  • Photovoltaics: cadmium, silicon

Red List Materials Compliance

Red List

Roofing materials without asbestos will be selected.

Only the photovoltaic panels will contain cadmium.
Chlorinated Polyethylene and Chlorosulfonated Polyethlene

Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)
Refrigerating appliances will use hydrocarbons (HCs) or ammonia.

Chloroprene (Neoprene)
Plumbing gaskets without chloroprene will be used.

Formaldehyde (added)
Plywood without formaldehyde is now available, but was not available when the Bullitt Center was being developed. Additionally, insulation with plant-based binders will be used.

Halogenated Flame Retardants.
Even though the fire resistance of these is questionable, insulation without these chemicals will be used.

Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs).
Refrigerating appliances will use hydrocarbons (HCs) or ammonia.

Lead (added)
Brass and bronze pipes will be purchased from the nearest manufacturers who make them with very low amounts of lead.

Appliances, switches, lighting, and batteries without mercury will be installed.

Petrochemical Fertilizers and Pesticides
The food forest negates the need for fertilizers and pesticides.

To create the highly insulated building envelope, phthalate-free plastic barrier products will be used.

Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)
In plastic plumbing pipes, HDPE will be used instead. For wiring, ABS plastic will be used.Wood treatments containing Creosote, Arsenic or Pentachlorophenol. A non-toxic, organic sealant will be used.

Food crisis is not an exaggeration

Permaculture guilds for water cleansing and food production.

Permaculture guilds designed for water cleansing and food production.

The New York Times recently highlighted some of the major issues regarding food security, including water reuse, soil retention, waste nutrient capture and seed banking. Resilience to climate change comes from unique solutions and reliance on “dozens of time-tested strategies that our best farmers and ranchers have [revitalized and enhanced with modern technology].”


Norman Borlaug’s concern for food security, and the resulting Green Revolution, dealt with quantity in relation to population. Today food security relates to quality and location. The mass production monoculture system of agribusiness is a major contributor to food insecurity. Mass production of food and associated long distances between farm and table (storefront) have created a new set of challenges related to how monocultures impact geography and nutrient quality in food. Agribusiness is incredibly petroleum dependent – from the direct fuel for large machinery and water pumping to the indirect use for creation of synthetic fertilizers. All of these factors put this style of farming at risk.

Many proponents of agribusiness believe that the solution to the impending climate threats on food security can be solved through continual genetic modification of crops. Solutions proposed by the agribusiness system are little more than band-aids for symptoms, not solutions to core problems. Organizations like the Socially Responsible Agriculture Project propose a return to small scale, poly-cultured, local permaculture farm plots, urban and rural, as the key to resiliency. Best known leaders of these specific agricultural techniques are Polyface, Growing Power and The Plant, and Michael Pollan is a well known advocate.

The following points are designed to highlight to a few of these issues.


One of the challenges in fighting the subsidization of corn and soy are actually the non-food products and feed grains that are generated from the monocultures producing these crops. Subsidies for feed corn override the availability of subsidies for small scale, localized and diverse crop farming. Feed crop production, and agribusiness as a whole, have huge lobby clout. The side-effect of this industry is the mass production of low-nutrient, easily packaged food stuffs that spins into over-availability and low cost of these food products – like HFCS. Basically why a bag of Cheetos is cheaper than a stalk of broccoli, and certainly cheaper than a stalk of organic broccoli. The producers of the two documentaries Food Inc. and Fresh have put together a concise fact sheet on these issues.


It used to be common practice that farmers would store a certain percent of their crop as seed stock for the next year, and a lot of crop hybridization came from this practice. There is a major battle between GMO seed companies and farmers about the rights to store seeds and having local seed repositories. The biggest challenges for monocultures is combating mass spread of fungus and insect populations, because both go through many life cycles (and opportunities for response genetic mutation) in the single life cycle of a crop. Seed banks not only create a genetic repository for future hybridization efforts that would be required by a response to major climate impacts, but are also an insurance policy against the unthinkable scenarios that end civilizations. There has been talk about having a seed bank on the moon, even though there are a lot of logistical challenges that accompany this idea.


The biggest argument for the need for seed banks has to do with the fact that it is legal to patent life by placing gene markers into the RNA of the seeds they engineer/genetically modify. This opens the door for companies to sue farmers for growing GMO seeds (usually round-up ready are the most controversial) without paying the company holding the patent. The fallout is that nature will cross pollinate, and a field can end up having a marker without the farmer’s intent. While Vernon Hugh Bowman’s case is not the best example it does get at the issue.


While the potential health risks have been debated, the biggest concern is the potential to engineer invasives that cannot be controlled. There was a recent issue in Oregon where 8 years after Monsanto’s last field trials, a group of GMO wheat plants volunteered themselves in a farmer’s field that were confirmed to be Roundup Ready. “Nobody knows how widely this genetically engineered wheat has spread, and whether it’s been in fields of wheat that were harvested for food.” Maybe the economics of GMOs will finally make some waves with policy makers in the US, because the EU and Japan do not purchase or condone genetic modification.