Arts & Entertainment and Food Service & Agriculture

Living wall garden sprouts at The B.O.B.

April 7, 2014
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BOB FOOD WALL
The organic plants from LiveWall will be used by The B.O.B.'s chefs in the creation of their restaurant dishes. Courtesy LiveWall

The B.O.B. in downtown Grand Rapids will soon be home to what could be the largest known “food wall” in America.

What’s a food wall? Let’s start at the beginning.

The food wall idea was first planted at The B.O.B. during ArtPrize 2013 with “Back to Eden,” a vertical garden submission from West Michigan artist Dave MacKenzie, who has been hailed as the inventor of the “LiveWall” system. LiveWall is exactly what it sounds like; quite literally a “living wall” canvas covered with plants. “Back to Eden,” which was named to the international art competition’s Top 25, was filled with more than 2,500 plants of 60 different varieties, and took about three weeks to set up, according to its ArtPrize page.

In May, The B.O.B., 20 Monroe Ave. NW, has plans to turn the 1,400-square-foot living wall into a major “wall-to-table” food initiative. Half of the wall’s perennial plants, which survived one of the worst winters in Michigan history, will be removed and returned for re-use at LiveWall LLC’s parent company, Hortech Inc., the nursery where the perennial plants were first grown. The space on the wall left by the vacated perennials will be filled with more than 1,500 herb and vegetable plants to be used by The B.O.B.’s chefs to create fresh and tasty dishes, according to a written statement.

“As far as I know, this will be the largest ‘food wall’ in North America,” MacKenzie said. “I am ecstatic about this initiative.”

Greg Gilmore, head of the Gilmore Group, which owns The B.O.B., said the initiative fits the organization’s desire to source locally and grow on-site produce.

“In this case, we’re taking locally grown freshness to the next level — to an urban setting. This is a way to optimize our space, control our budget, and to equip our chefs with the very best in flavor and nutritional value,” he said.

“Our chefs are like artists — artists that use food as their medium — and they take tremendous pride in their work. This is a way to support and empower them so they can do their very best work.”

Jared Miller, executive chef at The B.O.B., said the wall would produce a variety of herbs, leafy greens, peppers, tomatoes and some “surprise items” that can be used in dishes and dressings. It’s a concept that has Miller extremely excited, he said.

“When Greg presented me with the idea of growing food on site, I didn’t have to think twice. Herbs and certain vegetables make up a significant part of our budget, and we can save some money, but even more valuable is the freshness,” Miller said. “There is nothing better than freshly harvested flavor. And to be able to harvest and use the product within minutes, I don’t know how you can top that.”

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