Chicago (WMAQ/NBC) - O'Hare International Airport has installed 26 aeroponic towers in the rotunda building between terminals two and three, creating a first-of-its kind urban garden.
The 928-square-foot garden is a joint effort between the Chicago Department of Aviation and HMSHost, the company that runs many of the restaurant and concessions at the airport.
The vegetables and herbs harvested from the vertically oriented, indoor garden will be served only a few feet away from where they are grown at airport restaurants like Tortas Frontera, Wicker Park Sushi & Seafood, Blackhawks and Tuscany.
"There is nothing fresher than picking it off the tower and putting it in the sandwiches and pasta and other items you will eat here," said Aviation Commissioner Rosemarie Andolino.
Some of the first crops grown at O'Hare include habanero peppers, bibb lettuce, edible flowers, thyme, oregano and green beans.
In a process similar to hydroponics, seeds are first germinated in small cubes of nutrient-rich volcanic rock, then transferred to the 8-foot-tall towers that feed them a fertilized water mixture.
Some plants can be matured in as little as four weeks.
"In one year we can have 13 different crops," said Tim Blank of Future Growing LLC, the Florida-based company that designed the system.
The garden serves two functions at the airport.
Not only is it providing food for the restaurants, but it is also providing a green oasis for travelers.