Green Era Campus and Argonne National Laboratory join forces to pursue research opportunities in sustainability in agriculture, renewable energy generation, and food equity and access.

MOU will amplify the strengths of the Green Era Campus and the laboratory as they join forces to pursue research opportunities in sustainability in agriculture, renewable energy generation, and food equity and access

Green Era Campus’s mission aligns with Argonne’s research in clean energy, nature-based solutions and climate-resilient strategies.

On Monday, June 3, the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) participated in a signing ceremony with the Green Era Campus in Chicago’s Auburn Gresham neighborhood to commemorate a newly established agreement: a memorandum of understanding (MOU).

The MOU will amplify the strengths of the Green Era Campus and the laboratory as they join forces to pursue research opportunities in sustainability in agriculture, renewable energy generation, and food equity and access. Attendees included representatives from DOE, Argonne, the Green Era Campus and the community.

Several years in the making, this MOU links Argonne researchers with a community partner that is deeply involved in community engagement and research efforts that align with Argonne science pursuits. Notably, the Green Era Campus partners operate a 35,000-square-foot anaerobic digester system on their nine-acre campus and an urban farm with space dedicated for community-driven programming. Green Era Campus is a partnership of Green Era Sustainability (a for-profit entity), Urban Growers Collective and Green Era Educational NFP (a not-for-profit entity).

“At Argonne, we couldn’t be more excited to begin exploring, identifying and working with our MOU partner and delivering value to our community-based constituencies.” Robyn Wheeler Grange —, Director of Argonne’s Office of Community Engagement

Both organizations will apply jointly to funding opportunities to advance collaborative research projects. These projects will address climate change at the nexus of water, energy and food, and support workforce development and community engagement initiatives.

“This partnership is the first established by Argonne’s Office of Community Engagement (OCE). It is momentous and ambitious as a formal collaborative research partnership with a community-based organization doing historic things in Chicago,” said Argonne Laboratory Director Paul Kearns. ​“The agreement symbolizes the commitment that Argonne and the DOE have made to community-engaged research.”

Erika Allen, co-founder and CEO of Urban Growers Collective, president of Green ERA Educational NFP, and co-owner of Green Era Sustainability Partners, spoke to the agreement’s aspirational dimensions. ​“The holistic approach of the Green Era Campus combines community education, food access and climate resiliency to bring a collective vision to life,” said Allen. ​“This partnership with Argonne is a reflection and recognition of this vision, and an invitation for us all to be a part of the work that will make that vision a reality. The partnership will allow us to engage in and model research that is non-extractive towards people and the environment, while listening, uplifting and investing in our communities.”

Amplifying Paul Kearns’s remarks, Megan Clifford, head of Argonne’s associate laboratory director for science and technology partnerships and outreach, stated, ​“It’s a privilege and an honor to memorialize this relationship for the laboratory, and we’re excited about what can unfold in the weeks, months and years to come through this MOU.”

Robyn Wheeler Grange, the first director of Argonne’s OCE, emphasized that the MOU will give Argonne the opportunity to build a structure for working effectively with community-based organizations. She noted that ​“the MOU provides a broad framework for engagement with Green Era Campus’s partners across a variety of science topics: plant science, sustainable agriculture, nature-based solutions to climate change, the circular economy and innovation in decarbonization-related technologies. Engaging on all these fronts can deliver measurable benefits to disadvantaged communities impacted by this MOU.”

Additional Green Era Campus representatives spoke about the MOU’s significance from their perspectives.

Green Era and Urban Growers Collective: Founders with a 20+ year history in Chicago

The Green Era Campus partners’ history in Chicago stretches back to 2002 with the founding of the Growing Power Chicago office by Allen, an urban agriculture pioneer. She built the office to extend the work of Growing Power Milwaukee, a land trust established in Milwaukee in 1983 by her father, Will Allen, a legendary force in urban agriculture in his own right.

In 2014, Allen and Jason Feldman, an entrepreneur and environmentalist also with Loyola University Chicago, co-founded Green Era Campus, which includes Green Era Sustainability and Green Era Educational NFP.

Green Era focused on completing the ​“heavy lift” of remediating the contaminated soil on its nine-acre campus — formerly considered a brownfield site due to its being abandoned/underutilized because of polluting during a previous industrial application. Green Era then constructed its anaerobic digester system, which was completed in 2022.

In 2017, when Growing Power closed its doors, Allen and Laurell Sims, Growing Power Chicago’s production and marketing manager, co-founded Urban Growers Collective.

This Black- and women-led not-for-profit supports communities in developing their own food systems by growing, preparing and distributing foods within the communities themselves. Its eight farms are in South Chicago, Grant Park, Roosevelt Square, Educare Preschool Farm, Jackson Park, Altgeld Gardens, King Drive Community Healing & Resilience Garden, and on the Green Era campus.

Allen’s body of work earned her recognition as the 2022 James Beard Leadership Award honoree — an award her father had received in 2011. Named in honor of the renowned arbiter of culinary arts and food media, the award highlights ​“the important and complex realms of sustainability, food justice and public health.”

A season of milestones, culminating in connection to the natural gas grid

After construction of the digester, the Green Era Campus is adding community spaces and attractions. These include an urban farm with Urban Growers Collective and greenhouse, a retail store and nursery, a community education center, a community green space, and a finished compost distribution cooperative with Urban Growers Collective and Upside Down Consulting.

However, it is Green Era’s digester that remains something of a novelty for the region: It is the Midwest’s first self-sustainable anaerobic digester. As its name suggests, a digester consumes various kinds of food waste and packaging which is supplied by partners. As a result, it repurposes millions of pounds of waste that would normally be taken to landfills.

In addition, anaerobic digestion breaks down organic matter into two by-products: nutrient-rich compost and biogas, which can be converted into clean, high-quality renewable natural gas (RNG).

In fact, this operation is nearing completion of another major milestone agreement: Connecting to and supplying RNG into the gas grid, which will generate revenue and jobs for residents in the surrounding community.

Green Era Campus has been working with the Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corporation (GAGDC), a not-for-profit organization that promotes revitalization of low- to moderate-income neighborhoods in Chicago, as the largest investor in the digester.

GAGDC, its development projects, and the disadvantaged communities it serves will benefit from both the greater efficiency of the digester’s nitrogen management processes and from the revenue generated by the digester’s grid connection.

Scientists in Argonne’s Applied Materials division are pursuing research with Green Era Campus around the anaerobic digester food-waste-to-energy-development initiative. Most recently, exciting conversations have begun with our community partner and scientists in Argonne’s Environmental Science division.

As Grange noted, ​“At Argonne, we couldn’t be more excited to begin exploring, identifying and working with our MOU partner and delivering value to our community-based constituencies.”

Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology by conducting leading-edge basic and applied research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit https://​ener​gy​.gov/​s​c​ience.

Green Era Campus and Argonne align to forge c | EurekAlert!

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