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Evolving stories About Growing Food in a Big City

Chicago's green movement springs from the seeds of hope

Cassandra West

I grew up a city kid, knowing more about concrete playgrounds than I did about lush, expansive lawns. But I was endlessly fascinated with almost anything that grew from the ground. Flowers, weeds, trees, fruits. One summer I attempted to grow watermelon in a large pot. That experiment, needless to say, didn't work out. Even vegetables were fascinating marvels of the photosynthesis process I wanted to understand. Eating them was a different story, and I frowned a lot when they showed up on my plate. Leafy, green collard, turnip, mustard and spinach greens were staples in my mom’s cooking, and we always had them. They were earthly mysteries, grown--to my knowledge--by only one neighbor we knew. The vegetables my mom bought at the little neighborhood grocery store obviously were imported from away.

Ask me today about greens, and I still marvel at how they burst through thick soil and spread their giant leaves in verdant bunches. Today, I actually know from where greens come. More of the greens we eat are grown locally. Neighbors and friends are growing vegetables in their back yards or in community gardens. Or, we’re getting our greens at farmers’ markets, freshly picked with puffs of dirt still clinging to their roots.

We’re returning to the land again. People around Chicago and many other urban areas are rediscovering—or discovering for the first time—the power of growing their own food. Of taking control of their diets and food distribution. This is huge. And it needs to bigger. Not bigger in a way that big corporations control and monopolize markets. I mean bigger in a way that more local individuals and cooperatives can meet the food and economic needs of their communities.

The movement is taking hold. People committed to developing new systems of sustainability are spreading it. People who want to bring a fresh, home-grown vitality to communities long overdue for real and serious economic development and empowerment. Seeding Chicago will be your guide to this "new" urban renewal that’s taking place. This is one renaissance you don’t want to miss.

--Cassandra West, co-editor, Seeding Chicago