City Farming: A Real Solution for the Englewood Community and Other Urban Food Deserts in Chicago
On June 18, 2013, I had the wonderful opportunity to attend a special event held at a local City Farm fresh market situated in Northeast Chicago. This event was generously sponsored by Barefoot Wine & Bubbly for the purpose of supporting Resource Center’s latest initiative in sustainable urban farming.
Resource Center is a 35-year-old Chicago-based non-profit organization established with a mission to promote recycling and use of reclaimed material.
While in the midst of enjoying fresh hors d'oeuvres and wine during this event, I thought to myself: “I can’t believe that I’m sitting outside, in Cabrini Green, drinking wine and eating vegetables in the middle of a garden”.
For those who don’t know, Cabrini Green was once a major housing project located on Chicago’s Northeast side – exactly where City Farm sits today. The Cabrini Green projects were the backdrop of the popular sitcom “Good Times” and a real life setting in the classic 70’s film “Cooley High”.
Although I grew up in the Englewood community on the Southside of Chicago, I have very fond childhood memories of ole Cabrini Green. I spent a great deal of time on the 9th floor of one of the high rises playing with several of my cousins who lived there.
By all accounts Cabrini Green fit the description of what we now label a ‘food desert’. By all accounts Cabrini Green fit the description of what we now label a ‘food desert’. According to Wikipedia, a food desert is “a district with little or no access to foods needed to maintain a healthy diet” but often served by plenty of fast food. Food deserts are getting a lot of press these days, and for good reason on many levels.
One bothersome theme that has entered the conversation is that food deserts are the main reason why many people have poor diets and engage in unhealthy eating behaviors. The argument has become a crutch in a few circles and is regularly cropping up on national television via public health professionals and TV pundits (read about my personal perspective on food deserts here).
Now, before dinner was served, I had an intriguing and exciting conversation with the guest of honor Ken Dunn, founder of Chicago’s Resource Center. Because of his efforts, Ken was recently named one of Barefoot Wine & Bubbly's Soles of the Year. This is a program that celebrates caring and compassionate individuals making a lasting impression in their local communities.
Resource Center’s latest initiative, City Farm was the subject of our conversation and one that I’m now incredibly excited about. Through the City Farm initiative, Ken and his Resource Center have been able to turn vacant land in urban area food deserts into productive farmland.
There are currently four City Farm locations throughout Chicago. These farms have grown over 25,000 pounds of organic produce while simultaneously providing jobs to the local community.
City Farm uses organic farming methods, which are more environmentally friendly than conventional farming. Consuming organically grown produce reduces dietary exposure to potentially harmful synthetic chemicals like pesticides (learn about the benefits of eating organic foods here).
During my conversation with Ken I learned that the newest City Farm location is in the Washington Park community on Perry Street and 57th, which is just steps away from Englewood. That’s Englewood, the neighborhood in which I grew up. In fact, this location is less than 2 miles away from where my parents live today – in a food desert (click here to read about my personal story as a native of the Englewood community)...
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