Between our dedicated staff and ever-growing legion of extraordinary volunteers, we have centuries of experience building, teaching and cultivating local circular economies. Together, we’re working to change the way we, as a city, think about our food and our environment.

Our Mission

Our mission is to cultivate local circular economies.

We envision a paradigm shift in production, consumption and waste driven at the local level, generating equity and economic opportunity for all residents.

What is a Circular Economy?

At the facility scale, a circular economy can be described as conventional waste streams from one process being re-purposed as inputs for another, creating a circular, closed-loop model of material reuse.

At the local scale, it can be described as a collaborative economic practice sustained by local circulation of materials, nutrients, knowledge, and money. It’s empowered by transparency, diversity, and inclusion. Read more here.

What We Do

We equip people and businesses with the tools to live more sustainably through community-driven, hands-on programs and innovative research projects.


Plant Chicago is a non-profit organization established in 2011 by John Edel. His company, Bubbly Dynamics, LLC, is also owner of our first home, The Plant, a collaborative community of food businesses in Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood.

For the past 8 years, Plant Chicago supported the ever evolving project known as The Plant and brought tangible benefits to the surrounding community.  We are now in the process of renovating an abandoned firehouse as a center for circular economy programming in the Back of the Yards neighborhood on the southwest side of Chicago. Public programs will start in March of 2020.

Staff: Details


  • Jonathan Pereira, Executive Director

    Jonathan Pereira Executive Director

    Previous to Plant Chicago, Pereira worked in informal science education for over 15 years. Specializing in environmental education and youth development programs in urban areas, he has worked with youth in projects ranging from renewable energy to natural resource conservation. He developed numerous innovative programs such as Greencorps Youth Program (Chicago), and the Greentrack at Manhattan Comprehensive Night and Day High School (New York). He holds a BS in Geology and Spanish from Bates College and a MEd in Science Education from UIC.

    As the Executive Director of Plant Chicago, he’s working to bring the circular economy to life in Chicago. He sees a future where businesses work together to ensure that both local economies and environments are thriving.


  • Liz Lyon, Market Manager

    Elizabeth Lyon Small Business and Circular Economy Manager

    Liz joined Plant Chicago’s staff as the Farmers Market Manager in 2015 to start the current iteration of our year-round farmers market.  In 2018 she took on the new role of managing Plant Chicago’s Small Business Program. In this role she supports small businesses on the southwest side of Chicago in their journeys to become circular, community-focused, and financially sustainable.  She is constantly inspired by the passionate entrepreneurs in Chicago who are working together to build people-powered, collaborative local circular economy systems.

  • Rock Evans Education Manager

    Prior to joining Plant Chicago’s team, Rock was in Miami working with Shark Research and Conservation at the University of Miami. In addition to shark tagging, Rock focused on research, outreach, and community engagement. While in Miami, Rock created education programs and assisted in aquaponic and aquaculture system for the Miami Science Barge. Rock has a masters in Marine Affairs and Policy from the University of Miami, Rosenstiel School and a BS in Biology and Spanish from the University of Maryland.

    As Education Manager, Rock aims to engage students and expand their knowledge about circular economies, sustainability, and urban farming.

  • Eric Weber, Technology Coordinator

    Eric Weber Circular Economy Project Specialist

    Eric has been with Plant Chicago since 2012, when he started as an Aquaponic Systems Intern. He now leads a variety of circular economy projects with Plant Chicago, working closely with staff and outside professionals to investigate the latest in food and energy reuse. Previous to Plant Chicago, Eric worked for seven years in the ornamental aquarium industry. After earning a BA in Industrial Design from the University of Illinois at Chicago, he spent five of those years designing, installing and maintaining marine aquariums. He applies his knowledge and experience with living creatures and controlled environment life support technology to explore ways of reusing energy and waste.

  • Narcisse Robles Circular Economy Communications Coordinator

    Narcisse “Narcy” Robles has always had a passion for food and the food culture. From working in the retail grocery business, volunteering on organic farms in the Midwest, to developing marketing for small businesses in Chicago’s South Side, she has dynamic experience within the food industry and is eager to set her sights on Circular Economy and its role in creating a sustainable food economy. During her time as an undergraduate student, she assisted in the implementation of a quarterly business newsletter for Pilsen’s Eighteenth Street Development Corporation. Serving as a journalist for a community non profit, Narcy interviewed entrepreneurs and business owners and discovered the hardships and personal investment involved in running a small business.

    Narcy earned her B.A. in English: Media, Culture, and Rhetorical Studies in 2018 at the University Illinois at Chicago. Amongst other achievements, she is an avid baker and can whip up a mean chocolate chip cookie.

  • Lesly Diaz de Leon Firehouse Market Intern

    Lesly Diaz de Leon is working at Plant Chicago’s Firehouse Market and welcomes neighbors and shoppers alike. Lesley has been a resident of McKinely Park for her whole life and is currently a senior at Lane Tech. She anticipates going to college to study early childhood education in hopes of becoming an elementary school teacher. In her free time, Lesly loves skateboarding, taking care of her dog Milo and raising her many plants.

  • Kiara Balleza Firehouse Market Intern

    Kiara Balleza works at the Firehouse Market, Plant Chicago’s farmer’s market, and assists with hands-on workshops. Kiara is enrolled at Harold Washington College, studying Environmental Science and Public Policy, and looks forward to graduating in the spring. As a social justice advocate, she cares for people and the planet alike. Aside from environmental issues, Kiara is passionate about feminist and existential literature, horror movies, and all types of arts and crafts, including her expansive rock collection

Board of Directors

  • Chad Flores President

    Chad is the Product Manager at Previously, he was on the founding team at national environmental literacy and work readiness nonprofit Roots of Success, worked at online fundraising startup Network for Good, and social innovation incubator Impact Hub. He holds an MS in Public Service Management from DePaul University and a BS in Biomedical Sciences from Marquette University. Chad is deeply committed to sustainability, social justice, and supporting innovative, high impact projects that serve diverse populations.

  • Michael Edwards Treasurer

    Michael is a career commercial banker with a focus in global trade finance.  He has previous experience in lending to small and middle market customers.  In his time with U.S. Bank and Fifth Third Bank, National Association, he has helped facilitate various types of financing for foreign and domestic entities.  Michael holds a B.S. in Accounting from Central Michigan University.  Michael is excited to contribute to the Plant Chicago Board of Directors and is enthusiastic about Plant Chicago’s vision for promoting circular economies. He is very enthusiastic about Plant Chicago’s vision for promoting circular economies. Michael enjoys traveling, gardening (a hobby inherited from his mother), cooking, and reading.

  • Phil Fry Secretary

    Phil is a veteran business management and IT consultant with a focus in advanced analytics.  In his consulting roles with Diamond Technology Partners and Slalom, he has helped major organizations transform how they store, analyze, and benefit from their data assets.  Phil holds a A.B. in Mathematics from Harvard and an M.B.A. from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.  Having grown up on a family farm in Ohio, Phil is passionate about urban farming and bringing a sense of stewardship of our natural resources to the local community.  He sees the creation of circular economies as an exciting path forward.

  • Anneli Alers

    Anneli is a structured finance professional at Invenergy LLC, a developer, owner, and operator of power plants, primarily in the renewable energy space. In her role, she leads capital raising transactions to fund utility scale wind and solar projects around the world. Born and raised in Germany, Anneli is passionate about sustainability and waste reduction efforts and is very enthusiastic about Plant Chicago’s vision for promoting circular economies. Anneli holds a B.S. in General Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and an M.B.A. from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

  • Kristie Conklin

    Kristie Conklin is the employment program officer at the Lloyd A. Fry Foundation. Previously, she worked for the University of Chicago and oversaw initiatives designed to increase the economic opportunity for job seekers surrounding the University’s campus. Kristie was on the original launch team of UChicago Local, the University of Chicago’s buy, live, and hire local initiatives which spurred the creation of Chicago Anchors for a Strong Economy (CASE) and co-launched the Civic Leadership Academy at the University of Chicago, an interdisciplinary leadership development program for nonprofit and government leaders. Kristie is excited to support Plant Chicago’s mission of creating circular economies that reduce waste and generate economic equity for all.

  • Joseph Lopez, Board Member

    Joseph Lopez

    Joe founded Envisage Strategies in 2010 and has over 13 years of knowledge and experience in economic and community development, community engagement and public administration. He has held positions in the State of Illinois and City of Chicago governments, as well as in the public finance/capital markets industry. Joe has extensive experience in public policy development, public health and education, financial/budget analysis and management, community and economic development, performance management, sustainability planning, coalition building, contracts and grants development, management and compliance.

  • Darren Mattinson

    Darren is a trader for Gelber Group in global capital markets with experience in finance operations at an education non-profit. He is enthusiastic about the practical demonstration of sustainable systems and is excited to bring his experience to bear in serving as Plant Chicago’s Treasurer. He holds a B.A. in International Relations from Stanford University.

  • Adam Rodriguez

    Adam is a corporate counsel for Alden Management Services, Inc., where he advises long-term care providers on complex litigation and regulatory matters. He is a member of the Chicago Bar Association and Hispanic Lawyers Association of Illinois.  Adam cares deeply about social justice issues and has previously served as a supervising attorney for Micah Legal Aid Clinic.  He holds a B.A. in Literature from Bucknell University and a J.D. from University of Iowa College of Law. Adam is excited to contribute to Plant Chicago’s Board of Directors.

  • Inez Suen

    Inez Suen is an international art and design specialist working collaboratively with specialized teams to build art collections, produce exhibitions and experiential events. She owns and operates ISCA (Inez Suen Creative Agency) a boutique full service consulting company based in New York and Chicago. Inez went to the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign for her undergraduate degree in Industrial Design followed by graduate studies in New York City at the Parsons School of Design. She is currently completing a certification in Sustainable Urban Agriculture. Inez is passionate about building neighborhoods and community development through art and culture.

  • Julie Williams

    Julie is a Chicago real estate professional with New Urban Property Services. She holds a BA in American History from the University of Chicago and a JD from DePaul University College of Law. Julie has a wide range of professional experience as an attorney, baker, farmers market vendor, specialty cookie decorator, DJ, event planner, and real estate broker. She is passionate about Plant Chicago’s mission and is excited to serve as Chair of its Development Committee. Prior to joining the Board of Directors, Julie was the VP of Fundraising for Plant Chicago’s auxiliary board and has been a member of Plant Chicago’s volunteer community since 2012.

  • Ryan Wilson Director Emeritus

Advisory Committees

Plant Chicago sub-committees include leaders and professionals from many fields who volunteer their expertise and networks to support our mission.

Our Circular Economy Advisory Committee is a diverse group of academic and industry professionals who guide our research projects in circular systems. CEAC members include

Ning Ai, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Dept. of Urban Planning and Policy,
Research Associate Professor, Inst. for Environmental Science and Policy
University of Illinois at Chicago

Weslynne Ashton, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Environmental Management and Sustainability
Stuart School of Business, Illinois Institute of Technology

Nancy Landrum, Ph.D., Professor, Sustainable Business Management
Quinlan School of Business, Loyola University

John Mulrow, Ph.D. candidate, NSF Research Fellow
University of Illinois 

Andre Nogueira, Ph.D, Visiting Scientist
Harvard T.H. Chan school of Public Health

Shantanu Pai, Sustainability Researcher
Illinois Sustainable Technology Center

Sabina L. Shaikh, Ph.D., Director, Program on Global Environment
Senior Lecturer, Environmental Studies and Public Policy Studies
University of Chicago

Zach Waickman, Biodiesel Lab Manager, Sustainable Business Management
Loyola University


Plant Chicago’s Auxiliary Board organizes fundraising and community outreach events throughout the year.

Rohit Agarwal, West Monroe Partners
Alex Ansari, Alveole
Mark Doose, West Monroe Partners
Charles Espedido, Environmental Leadership Program
Andre Gordillo, Freight Broker Logistics
Kassandra Hinrichsen, Common Threads
Tara Larrue, Civis Analytics
Judy Li, Energy Foundry
Eric Pearson, Xylem
Erica Ruggiero, McGuire Igleski & Associates 
Emily Rhea, Eco Achievers
Tommy Straus, The Urban Canopy
Cecilia Tobias, State of Illinois Department of Human Services
Justin Tringl, Illinois Institute of Technology


Want to learn more? Email us with any inquiries.

Sponsors + Partners

With many thanks to our current sponsors, in-kind donors, and foundation partners:

  • Albert Pick, Jr. Fund
  • Anonymous donor advised fund at The Chicago Community Foundation
  • Barack Ferrazzano Kirschbaum & Nagelberg LLP
  • Blue Cross Blue Shield IL
  • Chicago Regional Food System Fund
  • Coleman Foundation
  • Conagra Brands Foundation
  • Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation
  • Environmental Law and Policy Center
  • First Midwest Bank
  • Huron Paper Stock
  • Lumpkin Family Foundation
  • Martha Struthers Farley and Donald C. Farley, Jr. Family Foundation
  • Oatley
  • Robert and Toni Bader Foundation
  • Walter S. Mander Foundation
  • West Monroe Partners
  • USDA

We partner with organizations, businesses and institutions across Chicago and the world who share our commitment to sustainable food and energy production, and local economic development.

  • 15th Ward
  • Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council
  • Back of the Yards Peace and Education Coalition
  • Chicago Commons
  • Experimental Station
  • Holy Cross Church
  • Illinois Institute of Technology Stuart School of Business
  • Illinois Institute of Technology Institute of Design
  • Port Ministries
  • Rheaply
  • University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy
  • Windy City Harvest