After three long years, Charlotte’s Innovation Barn will finally welcome people into its space this weekend, ahead of a grand opening this summer.
Its outdoor space — with skyline views, firepits and rocking chairs — will play host to Crave Charlotte’s food festival, featuring 20 local chefs and five mixologists this Saturday, June 26.
The big picture: The 36,000-square-foot former horse barn in the Belmont neighborhood is designed to be Charlotte’s new centerpiece of sustainability — the proving grounds for a truly circular economy where the city learns better ways to reduce waste.
What to expect: The city-funded project, managed by the nonprofit Envision Charlotte, will include:
- A composting lab that employs soldier flies to decompose food waste.
- An aquaponics garden will work with 100 Gardens to supply greens for local schools. It’ll also have a tank of tilapia and catfish, which will be used for regular fish fry events at the Innovation Barn, Envision Charlotte executive director Amy Aussieker tells me.
- A teaching kitchen with classes about how to limit food waste and canning vegetables 101.
- A plastics lab where something like a takeout container can be turned into filament, which can be used in a 3-D printer to create new products.
- A 10,000-square-foot outdoor space with room for food trucks (all of which will be required to use compostable materials).
- A furniture shop for Carolina Urban Lumber. They upcycle local trees and turn them into stunning tables.
- And a craft beer bar (because how else do you get Charlotte’s 20-somethings excited about recycling?).
Most everything throughout the Innovation Barn was donated: Electrolux donated the teaching kitchen; Wells Fargo’s old office furniture is now Innovation Barn’s new furniture; Signify donated motion-sensing energy-efficient lights.
The bar: RePour will have 16 taps of all local craft beer when it opens in mid-July. It’ll also have wine.
Another aspect of the bar is its partnership with local breweries, Aussieker says. For example: The barn will collect hops from breweries and then use them to grow mushrooms, which will then be used in the teaching kitchen and for the aforementioned fish fry events.
Why it matters: Everything has a purpose at the Innovation Barn — and most things have more than one use. The plates a food truck uses can be composted on-site by solider flies, and then the fly larvae can be used to feed the fish in the aquaponics garden, which is growing lettuce to use in the teaching kitchen. I could keep going, but you get it.
- Success, Aussiker says, would mean that visitors get a better understanding of what the circular economy is and how it works.
- And that corporations, small businesses, nonprofits and other local groups have a space to collaborate to achieve Charlotte’s sustainability goals laid out in the Strategic Energy Action Plan or SEAP.
Location: The Innovation Barn is located at 932 Seigle Ave. in the Belmont neighborhood of Charlotte.
Zoom out: North Carolina is in the middle of the pack when it comes to recycling in the U.S. Our recycling rate is 44%, according to a recent Eunomia report.
- Maine is far ahead of the rest of the country with a recycling rate of 74%. Alaska is in last with a 16% rate.
Yes, but: If you look just at plastics, the numbers are more dismal.
- North Carolina only recycles 8% of its plastic — 92% of plastic ends up in a landfill or sold overseas.
- On the plus side, we’re pretty good at recycling those Amazon boxes with a 67% recycling rate for cardboard.
Why do we suck at recycling? Aussieker believes changes are needed on systemic and individual levels, and ultimately there needs to be more collaboration across public and private entities.
- Recycling programs vary greatly from county to county, making the whole process complicated, costly and wide open for human error.
- On the individual level, Aussieker says there’s not enough accountability and too many “wishful” recyclers accidentally contaminating recyclables.
“Recycling is so broken,” she says. “It needs a radical change.”
What’s next: The Innovation Barn alone isn’t likely to make a major dent in our recycling rate, but it could advance our thinking when it comes to sustainability in Charlotte and other cities, Aussieker says.
- Aussieker has seen interest from other U.S. cities like Boulder and New York in creating similar concepts to Charlotte’s Innovation Barn.
Here’s a closer look around:
Editor’s note: This article was last updated on June 24, 2021 to include the latest information on the project and new photos.