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Largest rooftop garden in the Midwest resides on McCormick Place

As part of its ongoing mission to promote local sustainable agriculture and train city residents for careers in urban agriculture, Chicago Botanic Garden will also provide SAVOR…Chicago, the convention center’s food service provider, with fresh produce for McCormick Place catering and restaurant operations, reducing their need to transport produce to their operations.

The phase one 20,000 square-foot vegetable and herb garden is expected to yield up to 4,000 pounds of fresh produce, equivalent to 5,700 servings, during the first year of production. In following years, yields from that location are expected to reach 8,000-12,000 pounds of produce.

“The partnership with SAVOR…Chicago is an unprecedented opportunity to reduce our environmental impacts and also meet economic goals,” said Sophia Siskel, president and CEO, Chicago Botanic Garden. “This rooftop garden will have positive ripple effects as it expands our local agriculture production capabilities, saves harmful gas emissions by eliminating the need to transport some of our food needs, creates additional hands-on training and job opportunities for our Windy City Harvest students and serve as a local source of fresh produce to a major convention center catering provider.”

Crops and herbs grown during the first season on the McCormick Place West roof include kale, collards, carrots, radishes, green and red romaine lettuces, peppers, yellow, red and green bush beans, golden beets, cherry tomatoes, bulb fennel, garlic chives, dill, cilantro and parsley. These staple ingredients in SAVOR…Chicago’s kitchens were selected because they can easily be grown in a rooftop garden setting and also grow rapidly, giving restaurant patrons a steady supply of fresh, local produce.

“Partnering with the Chicago Botanic Garden underscores SAVOR…Chicago’s commitment to support efforts to grow and source products locally,” said Connie Chambers, general manager, SAVOR…Chicago at McCormick Place. “We share the Garden’s passion for hands-on job training and are excited to help Chicago residents prepare for jobs in the agriculture industry while helping us serve the nearly three million visitors we feed annually.”

The garden was designed and planted by staff from Chicago Botanic Garden’s Windy City Harvest (WCH) urban agriculture program, which offers the state’s first accredited urban agriculture certificate – the nine-month instructional and internship program utilizes greenhouse and outdoor growing space at Daley College’s Arturo Velasquez Institute.

“Our workforce training programs offer a model that successfully engages career changers and underemployed individuals, providing professional development that leads to job placement,” said Angie Mason, director of urban agriculture programs, Chicago Botanic Garden. “The WCH program has placed 89 percent of graduates in part-time or full-time positions in the green collar sector in the Chicago area.”

Chicago Botanic Garden plans to add the McCormick Place rooftop garden to the certificate program’s living laboratory, offering hands-on experience to WCH students who wish to earn an additional certificate in roof-top gardening, further advancing their urban agriculture expertise.

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