When you think of farmland, you likely think of sprawling country fields, lined with rows and rows of crops in loads and loads of soil.

But soil and fields are two things not readily available in Chicago’s South Side. So, how do you grow food in a place like this, where all that surrounds you is concrete and decay?

That’s the question that Emmanuel Pratt and the Sweet Water Foundation have been tackling in a number of neighborhoods in both Illinois and Wisconsin. Their answer has been to use the revolutionary practice of aquaponics, an eco-system that employs recirculating water, and can exist pretty much anywhere. 

To make these urban eco-systems succeed requires a certain mindset, which is to not view waste as waste at all. To bastardize an old saying: one man’s trash is another man’s resource, and that is exactly the attitude of both Pratt and artist Max Sansing, who is partnering with Sweet Water on creating a unique space that houses the self-sustaining agricultural system, and also doubles as a multi-functional learning environment for South Side students. And they’re doing so by recycling everything and everything they can, starting with the space’s shell: an empty, used shipping container.

Using cutting edge technology, Pratt and his team will develop and execute the container’s functional and engaging interior, while Sansing designs a captivating and inviting exterior. While the space is meant to be educational, it’s by no means meant to be sterile. So, Sansing’s mission is to ensure that the visuals he creates on the outside connect with those in the neighborhood who will see it.

So, why an empty shipping container? Well, there are plenty of them floating around Chicago’s South Side—some empty, some used for storage. But Pratt and Sansing look at these containers and see an opportunity for so much more. In the end, that mindset is a microcosm of their entire approach: to take something that is neglected and houses low expectations—something that most people would simply throw away—and turn it into something useful and inspired.

One man’s waste is another man’s resource. In the end, it’s all about how you look at things.

For more on Pratt and Sansing’s South Side collaboration, be sure to watch part two of a two-part series in the video above.