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Evolving stories About Growing Food in a Big City

Crops on the corner: Hull-House farm a model for local production

Cassandra West

[youtube=]Standing inside a fenced-in space on the UIC campus, you can see Chicago's tallest building, the Willis Tower (formerly Sears), a black soaring tube of steel and glass pitched stately against a cloudless sky. Cars, buses and trucks whiz by this barren patch on the corner of Taylor and Halsted streets in a city always on the move. All around, city life runs at its breakneck pace, people on foot and in cars preoccupied and on their way to somewhere. Few take time to notice the incongruity set on this quarter-acre green space in the landmark neighborhood where the world's most famous settlement house once stood: an urban farm at the beginning of its growing season.

We're at the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum Urban Farm, a half block from the museum and famous dining hall that now hosts a re-imagined soup kitchen, which pays homage to the city's socially conscious past--and present. The farm, a model for local food production, also supplies heirloom crops for "Re-Thinking Soup," a public and communal event where Chicagoans gather to eat healthy, nutritious soup and have "fresh, organic conversation about social, cultural, economic and environmental food issues."

It's mid-April and the farm is springing to life. Farmer Ryan and volunteers prepare the soil, combining rich, dark compost with straw and horse manure. They're setting up raised beds on the farm's eastern edge and planting the farm's first crops: potatoes, herbs and greens. Inside the portable hoop house and brick-and-glass greenhouse, tiny pepper and cabbage seedlings are starting to grow. The stage is being set for the new growing season. Soon, whether you notice or not, food will grow where many of us least expect to see it.

Over the coming months, Seeding Chicago will drop in regularly on the Hull-House Museum urban farm to bring you fresh updates on what's new and growing. We hope our reports will satisfy your hunger to understand the challenges and rewards of growing food in the city.