At Plant Chicago, a nonprofit organization bringing sustainable and urban agriculture to vacant industrial buildings, a 170-member team is working to close energy and waste loops in the built environment.
Through research and community development and training sessions, Plant Chicago redirects waste from brewing, aquaponics and food-production facilities to power a 36,000-square-foot vertical farm. Its goal to bring jobs and effective, sustainable ways to grow food to the surrounding community is what landed them as one of 21 semifinalists in the Buckminster Fuller Challenge.
The Buckminster Fuller Challenge awards a $100,000 prize annually to programs accelerating the development and deployment of solutions aimed at radically advancing human well being and the health of the Earth’s ecosystems. The prizes are made possible through a five-year grant.
“We are very excited to be semifinalists in the BFI Challenge, says John Edel, Plant Chicago’s director. “If we win the prize, we’ll be able to reach out to other grassroots groups and leverage our current research and facilities to help fix our country’s broken food system.”
This year, 162 programs accepted the challenge, but in early June, an 11-member panel of judges will select only one to carry on the legacy of R. Buckminster Fuller.
A key innovator of the 20th century, R. Buckminster Fuller (affectionately known as “Bucky”) was driven by his intention “to make the world work for 100 percent of humanity, in the shortest possible time, through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or disadvantage of anyone.” The Buckminster Fuller Institute, founded in 1983 in New York, combines art, science, design and technology to encourage participants following in Bucky’s footsteps.
Judges will choose the winner of the Buckminster Fuller Challenge based on a program that is comprehensive, anticipatory, ecologically responsible, feasible, verifiable and replicable.
“Each project has been vetted up to four times by members of our review team, undergoing extensive analysis and discussion,” says Elizabeth Thompson, executive director of the Buckminster Fuller Institute. “We also conduct an in-depth interview with the individual or team behind the strategy to get at the more technical aspects of the project as well as to understand the underlying design principles informing the work. It is a very significant achievement to advance to this stage of the selection process.”
Although interesting projects are taking place in the U.S., participants from around the world are vying for the grant that will continue propelling their projects forward.
In Germany, for example, Jürgen Kleinwächter and his team at Sunvention developed the Solar Power Villages, which integrate solar collection into greenhouses, store it in hot oil and use the heat collected to meet needs for electricity, cooking, water pumping and power. The Solar Power Villages are created to help supply energy needs and convert the energy and create a sustainable food supply on sites that will not work for year-round, open-air organic growing.
Each of the semifinalists are highlighted as a top-tier project in BFI’s Idea Index. Check them out on the BFI website through the remainder of the program cycle.