Chicago Urban Farming Partnership Focuses on Empowering South Side Neighborhood

This article appeared on Seedstock.com.

The Englewood community on Chicago’s South Side has endured much of the impact of urban disinvestment over the past 30 years.

Now, thanks to a coalition of community partners, bare lots are being turned into productive fields as part of Chicago’s urban agriculture movement.

Angelic Organics Learning Center, a non-profit based in Caledonia, Illinois, has partnered with other longtime influential not-for-profits in the community such as Real Men Charities and Black Oaks Center for Sustainable Renewable Living as well as the City of Chicago Department of Housing and Economic Development to form the Eat2Live garden and farm .

Now going into its fourth year, the garden is used as a space for community members to learn how to bring fresh produce into their kitchens. The farm, however, is still a work in progress. This half-acre plot will act as a small business incubator for up to ten for-profit and non-profit businesses. If all goes according to plan, it will include 8,000 square feet of high tunnels, growing systems, and hoop houses that will allow for year-round organic food production.

According to Eat2Live project coordinator J. Anton Seals Jr., this urban farm is only possible because of the collaboration with the project coalition. Although the city of Chicago won’t be supplying any hard materials, such as hoop houses, as soon as the weather warms it will begin working on land remediation, which Seals says will be a big help.

“Getting urban land ready for use as a farm is often the biggest impediment for people doing urban agriculture projects,” he says.

Englewood’s location itself presents opportunities and challenges. Because the city has torn down so many dilapidated buildings in the area, there is plenty of room for farming. Also, it’s only a 15-minute bicycle ride from the Loop, making the location fairly desirable for those who might want to commute. However, that easy access to people outside of the community might present a bit of a downside when it comes to making sure the people who most need access to productive, profitable land get to use it.

The challenge, according to Seals, is engaging the community members who actually live in Englewood to get involved in urban agriculture. He said that often what happens with these sorts of community development projects is that very well-intentioned, well-funded people may come in from outside the community and act as “missionaries.” This doesn’t directly help the low-income residents of the neighborhood very much to take charge of their own communities. The coalition is trying to make sure that urban agriculture actively involves the urban people, according to Seals.

“I think that organizations that are really going to dig in their heels and find partners and want to grow in the community and become part of the fabric of the community are going to take a much different approach,” says Seals.“That’s the issue, how to you get those folks engaged, what’s their point of entry into this conversation, what’s the benefit for them, and what are some of the alternatives for what we could be doing to actually attract them to come and be a part of the new economy.”

To that end, Angelic Organics Learning Center and Real Men Charities host workshops aimed at educating community members on not only growing produce in an urban environment but also on integrating that produce into their diet.

Seals believes it is important to make sure people in the poorer neighborhoods like Englewood have opportunities to have access to high quality fruits and vegetables, and to be empowered to take care of their own health.

“Many of these communities are dealing with diet-related chronic illnesses, like diabetes and hypertension,”  he says. “That’s because there’s a lack of fresh fruits and vegetables, but also there’s a lack of knowledge of how you integrate fresh fruits and vegetables into a diet.”

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