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Evolving stories About Growing Food in a Big City

Urban farm to provide “job training and fresh vegetables”

Cassandra West

A new 2.6-acre urban farm will be located on this tract of land in East Garfield Park. /Seeding Chicago photo

The ground breaking today was merely symbolic, but Chicago’s newest urban farm will be a reality in the next few months. That’s when Chicago FarmWorks begins producing food on a 2.6-acre site located along side the Metra/Union-Pacific railroad tracks in the East Garfield Park neighborhood.

Heartland Human Care Services, Inc. — a division of the anti-poverty organization Heartland Alliance — is one of several agencies behind Chicago FarmWorks. Heartland estimates that 24,000 pounds of produce will be grown in the first year. The farm also expects to create 90 transitional jobs in the first three years that will allow hard-to-employ people to get training and eventually full-time jobs.

“This is no ordinary farm,” said David Sinski, Heartland Human Care Services executive director. “This land will produce more than just fresh vegetables for Chicago families. It also will create jobs for those who are overcoming barriers to employment.” It will also give neighborhood children “a better understanding of agriculture and healthy eating.”

Chicago FarmWorks is being developed in partnership with Heartland Alliance, the City of Chicago, Wilbur Wright College, the Greater Chicago Food Depository, NeighborSpace and West Humboldt Park Development Council. When Chicago FarmWorks becomes fully operational, it will provide produce directly to the Greater Chicago Food Depository at wholesale prices. The farm also will grow flowers in hoop houses for sale to floral retailers at wholesale rates to create a more financially sustainable project.

“We have worked with Greater Chicago Food Depository to identify the vegetables most needed for local food pantries,” said Dave Snyder, Chicago FarmWorks manager. During the winter, the farm will produce cabbage, carrots, radishes and onions. Seedlings are already growing in a green house space that Christy Webber Landscapes has donated. Sweet potatoes, beets, cucumbers, beans, spinach, summer squash and peppers are planned for spring.

“Urban farms benefit communities in a variety of ways,” said Ben Helphand, executive director of NeighborSpace. “The rows of food growing on what had been vacant lots provides a beautiful inspiration to the neighborhood. It also provides very real job training and fresh vegetables."

Chicago FarmWorks hopes it can be catalyst to spur other economic development in the East Garfield Park neighborhood, where unemployment hovers around 35 percent.