A variety of lettuces growing at the OHare Airport Urban Garden
Two of the lettuce varieties at the O'Hare Urban Garden

O’Hare’s Indoor Urban Vegetable Garden

Lousy weather, delays and a canceled flight all conspired earlier last week to allow me some 30 minutes of a badly-needed respite in the unlikeliest of settings: a 928-square-foot vegetable garden in Chicago O’Hare Airport’s Terminal 3. The scene included the two lettuce varieties above.

I vaguely remember hearing about the O’Hare Urban Garden when it opened back in September 2012, and am happy to report that it remains perhaps the most peaceful and inviting place to kill some time at one of the world’s busiest airports.

What is it?

The short answer: a mini farm-to-table experience, post-porno scanner, located over the corridor to Concourse G in O’Hare’s Terminal 3.

The less-short answer, via the airport’s website:

In O’Hare’s aeroponic garden, plant roots are suspended in 26 towers that house over 1,100 planting spots. A nutrient solution is regularly cycled through the towers using pumps so that no water evaporates or is wasted, making the process self-sustaining. No fertilizers or chemicals are used in the garden.

At the OHare Airport Urban Garden

And what is aeroponic gardening?

.. a method of growing plants without soil. Instead, plant roots are misted with a nutrient solution during a regular watering cycle. Aeroponics is becoming increasingly popular around the world as agricultural land uses must compete with developers for limited open space.

It’s also higher yield per square foot, uses less water and allows cultivation year-round.

Edible flowers growing at the OHare Airport Urban Garden
Edible flowers at the O’Hare Airport Urban Garden

The output?

Some two dozen herbs and vegetables, which include several varieties of lettuce and basil, thyme, cilantro, dill, habanero peppers and edible viola and nasturtium flowers.

The harvest is then used at airport terminal restaurants, including Wolfgang Puck, Tortas Frontera, Wicker Park Seafood & Sushi, Blackhawks Restaurant and Tuscany Cafe, giving the produce a near-zero transportation footprint.

Any type of indoor gardening is going to use substantial amounts of energy, so it’s not the greenest venture out there. But as Tree Hugger pointed out, O’Hare has to light and heat the place anyway, so the garden largely shares energy that’s already being used. By one published estimate, the garden feeds upwards of 10,000 people.

I don’t travel through too many airports in the US these days so was curious to know how common such an initiative is, more than two years since its inception. As it turns out –based on about 20 minutes of searching— Chicago’s example remains unique. Which is somewhat disappointing. I hope my googling can be proven wrong.

As for other parts of the world, I’ve seen some very nice flower and foliage gardens in airports in Europe and Asia, but nothing edible. Does anyone know of any similar initiatives at other airports?

Here’s a good 11-minute video produced a couple years ago showing and critiquing the garden from a green perspective. And a few more snaps below.

Mixed greens at the ready
Mixed greens at the ready
Habanero peppers at the OHare Airport Urban Garden

Herbs growing at the OHare Airport Urban Garden Cilantro growing at the O'Hare Airport Urban Garden

Basil at the OHare Airport Urban Garden
One of several basil varieties at the O’Hare Urban Garden

The OHare Airport Urban Garden



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