Problems & Solutions: Food

Problems & Solutions

The Center for Permaculture and Appropriate Technology (CPAT) is a place that showcases how a balance among (1) healthy food choices, (2) stormwater management, (3) low-pollution transportation systems with supportive jobs, and (4) renewable energy sources can be embedded in the Near West Side community area. Teaching, learning, and job training programs are integral to all work at CPAT.

The activities at CPAT are designed to build on the local economy by providing a marketplace where exchanges happen in a closed, local loop. CPAT equips the neighborhood with the knowledge and resources needed to live resiliently and encourages a community-scaled, closed loop economy less impacted by regional and global fluctuations. Programs like Local Bucks (see Eau Claire and Greencastle) ensure dollars stay local, and Really, Really Free Markets (see Toronto and NYC) encourage product life-cycle awareness, interdependence with neighbors, and community interactions.

The site becomes a campus of learning and working, and is the antithesis to a massive building that could have been built within the constraints of the Living Building imperatives. Crisscrossing footpaths break up the large street grid to create a human-scaled site that offers intrigue, and improves human well-being through stress relief as shown in Landscape Psychology. Paths are also a direct Biomimicry technique to create Land Mosaics that increase habitat types and species variation to an urban area, therefore providing opportunities for nature access, education and economic development.

As a Living Building, CPAT is a restorative organism. At the center is an anaerobic digester, CPAT’s stomach. Its fuel is waste, and its product is education, food, and support for the local economy. The more waste the digester receives, the more energy it generates.

1. Food

CPAT is located in a food desert, which is an area that lacks “access

to affordable fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lowfat milk, and other foods that make up the full range of a healthy diet”. CPAT will sell to Chicagoans food grown seasonally and raised in the food forest; the produce can also be sold at nearby farmers markets.

A preliminary assessment of grocers (Table 1) in a one mile Euclidean radius shows a majority are wholesale providers (28) and a handful of retail grocers selling produce (7). The half mile radius shows a drastic reduction in all store types, further iterating the site is at the heart of a food desert.


Table 1 – Number of food providers near the site

0.5 mile radius

1 mile radius

Food Provision Type



Store sells Local Pr




Store sells Produce



Store does not sell Produce



Wholesale Produce



Closed Stores



Specialty Food Serv




Total Count of

The food forest harvest will make its way to consumers through three major avenues. Produce will be sold at the farmers market; staples – eggs, seeds, and honey – will be sold in the grocery store; food and plant materials processed in the kitchen co-op will be sold in both the grocery store and the farmers market, including some sales of prepared food in the cafe.

Food waste will be mulched and processed in an anaerobic digester where it is turned into methane and fertilizer, or composted on site; the methane will be used to create heat and generate electricity. The majority of materials processed by the digester will come from on-site sources, but the large number of food sellers close by opens the possibility of processing some waste from these existing surrounding businesses.

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