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Evolving stories About Growing Food in a Big City

Filtering by Category: Seedlings

Chicago food activists stand with Haitian farmers in rejecting Monsanto seeds

Cassandra West

Since the catastrophic Jan. 12 earthquake, many Haitians came to see agriculture as the most practical and long-term solution to healing the land and the economy. Then in stepped big agribusiness, as always, with its own solution, designed more to help its bottom line than the Haitian population. 65th and Woodlawn Community Garden

Monsanto, the St. Louis-based agri-chemical company, announced recently that it would donate 60,000 sacks, or 475 tons, of hybrid corn and vegetable (cabbage, carrot, eggplant, melon, onion, tomato, spinach and watermelon) seeds, some of them treated with highly toxic pesticides, according to reports.

Haitian farmers called the donation “a new earthquake” with the potential to rock their island nation as much as the one that destroyed so many lives and structures earlier this year.

Bev Bell of Daily Kos reported: In an e-mailed letter sent May 14, Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, executive director of the Peasant Movement of Papay and the spokesperson for the National Peasant Movement of the Congress of Papay, called the entry of Monsanto seeds into Haiti "a very strong attack on small agriculture, on farmers, on biodiversity, on Creole seeds, and on what is left our environment in Haiti." Haitian activists have vigorously opposed agribusiness imports of seeds and food, which undermines local production with local seed stocks, and expressed special concern about the import of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Haiti’s Ministry of Agriculture rejected Monsanto’s offer of Roundup (its popular and bestselling herbicide) Ready GMO seeds. A Monsanto representative, in an e-mail, assured the MoA that the donated seeds are not GMO.

The Director of Seeds at the Haitian Ministry of Agriculture says the seeds are treated with the fungicide Maxim XO, and the calypso tomato seeds are treated with thiram, which belongs to a highly toxic class of chemicals called ethylene bisdithiocarbamates. The EPA has determined that EBDC-treated plants are so dangerous to agricultural workers that they must wear special protective clothing when handling them.

Haitian farmers, who are trying to hold on to the one hope they have for rebuilding their damaged eco-system and economy, will stage a protest and burn seeds from Monsanto in Haiti on June 4, World Environment Day. In solidarity with the Haitian farmers, Chicago food justice activists are holding an evening of action Friday, June 4, 6:30 – 8 p.m., called “From Haiti to Chicago: Speak OUT against Monsanto!” at the 65th and Woodlawn Community Garden (corner of 65th and Woodlawn).

The gathering will feature: *Speak outs, testimonies about the right to quality food and food sovereignty *Performance by hot Chi-city poets and spoken word artists *Haiti Updates *Planting of heirloom seeds, reclaiming the tradition of seed saving, and rejecting the monopolization of genetically modified foods. For more information, contact Rising in Solidarity with Ayiti (R.I.S.A.) at: or call: (773) 979-3272

USDA Report: Local Food Markets Growing, Effects on Health Still Unclear

Cassandra West

By Susan Richardson Farmers markets and other  direct sales of produce to consumers account for a small, but growing, share of U.S. agricultural production, according to a new report by the Economic Research Service, a program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  "For smaller farms, direct marketing to consumers accounts for a higher percentage of their sales than for larger farms," according to the report.    But researchers are still unclear what impact the healthier food options are having on improved nutrition in communities.  The report, titled Local Food Systems: Concepts, Impacts, and Issues," also finds that there is insufficient research to determine the effect of locally grown food on energy consumption or greenhouse gas emissions.  

Key findings of the report include

  • Federal, state, and local government programs increasingly support local food systems.
  • Production of locally marketed food is more likely to occur on small farms located in or near metropolitan counties. 
  • The number of farmers’ markets rose to 5,274 in 2009, up from 2,756 in 1998 and 1,755 in 1994, according to USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service.
  • There are  few studies on the impact of local food markets on economic development, health, or environmental quality. But research suggests that expanding local food systems can increase employment and income in communities.

GREEN FESTIVAL REPORT: Benefiting from the Green Economy

Cassandra West


By Susan Richardson

Panelists at Good Jobs/Green Jobs at the Green Festival

As Nicholas Lemann explains in The Promised Land, the advent of the mechanical cotton picker in the 1940s displaced black sharecroppers, adding to the Great Migration of African-Americans from the South to the North. Technological changes have always had an economic, social and racial impact.  Today, as we face another economic shift – this time from an energy inefficient industrial-based economy to a more green-collar economy –  advocates want to ensure that people of color do not become the sharecroppers of the new economy. 

The issue was raised by an audience member at the "Good Jobs/Green Jobs" panel sponsored by Blacks in Green (BIG) at this weekend’s Green Festival.  The panel took aim at how to create economic opportunity in communities that have been damaged by disinvestment and have seen job programs come and go. In the African-American community, unemployment figures far outpace the national average.  As several panelists stated on Saturday, there is a need for jobs, but not jobs that are “a bridge to nowhere,” as BIG’s Naomi Davis said. Rather, there is a need for well-paying, skilled jobs, and, more important,  business ownership in the green economy. 

Linking stewardship of the physical environment to the “more built environment,” as Terry Keleher, of Applied Research Center, said, is critical to help communities of color benefit from green-related opportunities. His organization has created a “Green Equity Tool Kit," outlining principles, standards and models for creating job programs and opportunities.  Ald. Will Burns (4th Ward), a former state representative, talked about a state-sponsored weatherization program that will allow urban residents to be trained in caulking, weather-stripping and other skills to help make residences more energy efficient. He describes the program as a “ladder to opportunity.” 

Former Chicago City Council Member Manny Flores emphasized that green advocates working in communities of color don’t have to wait for the government to act on their behalf. Economic opportunities have come about “because people like us have banned together to take advantage of opportunities,” Flores said, adding that neighborhoods should be “laboratories of innovation,” where new green enterprises can be incubated.

Austin Polytechnical Academy & Center for Polytechnical Education is taking that approach.  The Center’s Erica Swinney-Stein explained how the school on Chicago’s West Side trains youth to work for and own advanced manufacturing companies. There are several companies that occupy very specific niches -- for example, providing parts for wind turbines or hybrid cars – that cannot find qualified employees. Some of the businesses end up closing because they cannot find anyone to replace the aging owners, Swinney-Stein said. Austin Polytechnical isn’t just teaching kids skills, the school is also teaching them to “think entrepreneurially,” she said. 

That will help people of color become the owners, rather than the sharecroppers, in the green economy.

Local food production could yield big economic benefits

Cassandra West

Food grown locally could boost region's economyIf Midwestern farmers raised the fruit and vegetables eaten in the Heartland, they could create thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in income, according to a study reported recently by the Associated Press.

The Iowa State University study looked at what would happen if farmers in six states — Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin — raised 28 crops in quantities large enough to meet local demand. The study found that if an ample supply of produce could be grown regionally, it would spur $882 million in sales, more than 9,300 jobs and about $395 million in labor income.

Growing enough food to meet regional demand also wouldn't take much land, said said Michelle Miller, associate director of the University of Wisconsin's Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems, which helped fund the study. "That's one of the wild things about it — you can grow a lot on a few number of acres. Anyone who has a garden knows this."

How few acres? One of Iowa's 99 counties could meet the demand for all six states, said Rich Pirog, associate director for the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State. The center requested the study after seeing increased demand for food grown closer to home, especially from public schools and colleges.

The study included apricots, asparagus, mustard greens, bell peppers, onions, broccoli, peaches, cabbage, pears, cantaloupe, plums, carrots, raspberries, cauliflower, snap beans, collard greens, spinach, cucumbers, squash, eggplant, strawberries, garlic, sweet potatoes, kale, tomatoes, watermelon and lettuce — both leaf and head.

Crops such as pumpkins, apples and cherries weren't included in the study because the Midwest already grows enough of them to meet local and regional demand. Corn and soybeans are considered grains, not produce.

'Greenest Market' coming

Cassandra West

glenwood market logoBilling itself as Chicago's "greenest" market, the new Glenwood Sunday Market in Rogers Park opens June 6 at 9 a.m., with a ribbon cutting at 8:30. Food produced by 11 farmers will be offered. All the farmers are and either certified organic or transitioning to organic and come from within 200 radius of Zip Code 60626, the market's website says. Other food vendors will be sourcing sustainably according to strict market guidelines. The market will fill the entire street on Glenwood Avenue between Morse Avenue and Lunt, at the base of the 'L', making it a "Green Stop on the Red Line," organizers say.

Glenwood Sunday Market is located at the intersection of Glenwood & Morse Avenue (1400W-6900N) in Rogers Park. It will operate every Sunday 9 a.m. -1 p.m. June 6 through Oct. 17. Visit its website for more information.

Action Alert – Protect Your Right to Know Which Foods Contain GMOs

Cassandra West

Please send this URGENT message to U.S. Government leaders to protect your right to know which foods are made from genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Click and send an email today to the Secretaries of State (Clinton), Agriculture (Vilsack), and Health and Human Services (Sebelius). Please try to do this before Wednesday, May 5, but don’t stop until they come around. They must stop U.S. negotiators at an international (Codex) conference from May 3-7, from pushing an agenda that could make it difficult for anyone, "anywhere in the world" to label foods as genetically modified (GM) – or even make "non-GMO claims on their product’s label."

The U.S. is taking the ridiculous and unscientific position that GMOs are not different from conventional foods, claiming labels that say GMO or non-GMO are misleading.

If they succeed at the meeting, the U.S. may then file lawsuits through the World Trade Organization against any country that implements mandatory labeling of GMOs, or even allows non-GMO claims on packages.

This Is a Grave Threat to the Non-GMO Tipping Point – We Must Push Back Now!

The growing evidence and concern about health dangers of GMOs is making waves. A renowned US Medical organization (American Academy of Environmental Medicine) called on doctors to prescribe non-GMO diets for all patients. Consumers are seeking non-GMO brands, and the fastest growing claim among store brands in 2009 was “GMO-Free” (Neilson Survey). The trade journal "Supermarket News" predicts GMO concerns will erupt this year, specifically because consumers are now given choices by the new Non-GMO Shopping Guide website and the Non-GMO Project’s third-party verified standard for making non-GMO claims.

Most Americans (53%) say they would avoid GMOs if they were labeled. But even 5% would likely be enough to create a tipping point of consumer rejection, forcing all GM ingredients out of our food supply.

We can see the tipping point just over the horizon, but it is now threatened by the US position at Codex.

Tell our government leaders that you will not stand for this outrageous obstruction of our democracy and human rights. Demand that the U.S. support the right for countries everywhere to label GMOs. And remind them that 9 out of 10 Americans want mandatory GMO labeling, and that President Obama actually made a campaign pledge to implement it—which are all waiting for.

Send an email today!

Wholesome Wave Foundation funds 'Link Bucks' at Farmers Markets

Cassandra West

farmers markets produce LINK card users will get more beans for their bucks at Chicago Farmers Markets this season thanks to a grant from the Wholesome Wave Foundation to fund a Double Value Coupon Program. Experimental Station and the City of Chicago announced last week a program to accept Link (food stamps) at five city-run farmers markets starting May 13, 2010 at Daley Plaza. The Wholesome Wave grant will fund $5 in “Link Bucks” to match up to five dollars of LINK purchases per cardholder per market day at the Lincoln Square (Tuesdays), South Shore (Wednesday), Daley Plaza (Thursday), Division Street (Saturday), and Beverly (Sunday) farmers markets, a press release issued Tuesday says. When a shopper makes a LINK purchase at one of five participating farmers markets, the shopper will receive up to five extra dollars (“LINK Bucks”) to purchase more nutritious, local food. The “LINK Bucks” are valid at any of the five markets for the entire season (expiring October 30, 2010) and do not need to be redeemed the same day.

Experimental Station is a not-for-profit incubator of innovative cultural, educational, and environmental projects and small-scale enterprises. It was established in 2002 in Chicago’s Woodlawn neighborhood.

The mission of Wholesome Wave Foundation Charitable Ventures Inc. is to nourish neighborhoods by supporting increased production and access to healthy, fresh and affordable locally grown food for the well-being of all. Wholesome Wave is based in Westport, CT.

Lincoln Park Farmers Market opens May 15

Cassandra West

farmers marketThe revamped Lincoln Park Farmers Market starts Sat., May 15 and continues every Saturday from 7am-1pm until Oct. 30 at the Lincoln Park High School parking lot (Armitage & Orchard).

The new layout of the market puts vendors on the east half of the parking lot, allowing for patrons to enter and park through the west entrance.

For updates or more information, visit

Here are the vendors scheduled for the market: Dotson's Farm--Lynwood IL Ellis Family Farms--Benton Harbor,MI Farm Fresh Foodstuffs (NEW! Meats, Pasta and Cheese)--Naperville, IL Froehlich's Finest Fruits and Vegetable--Berrien Center, MI Garden Offerings--Huntley, IL Highrise Baking Company--Highland Park, IL Hoffman's Greenhouses-- Mundelein, IL K.V. Stover and Sons LLC--Berrien Springs, MI La Provence Inc. (NEW! Baked Goods)--Chicago Lyons Fruit Farm--South Haven, MI M.A. Madsen Farms--St. Anne, IL Mick Klug Farms--St. Joseph, MI Nichols Farm and Orchard Inc.--Marengo, IL Noffke Family Farms--Coloma, MI River Valley Ranch-- Burlington, WI Smits Farms--Chicago Heights, IL Spencer Foods, Inc. (NEW! Cooking Brats on site)--Chicago Stamper Cheese Co.--Chicago The Cookie Jar (NEW! Baked goods including gluten free)--Chicago The Flower Garden--St. Anne, IL Twin Garden Farms (Sweet Corn starting in July)--Harvard, IL

5 Chicago Farmers Markets to accept EBT/LINK this season

Cassandra West

Five Chicago Farmers Markets have been authorized to accept EBT/LINK cards when the selling season kicks off on May 13, the Mayor’s Office of Special Events announced this week. EBT/LINK service will be available on these days: Tuesdays at Lincoln Square; Wednesdays at South Shore in the ShoreBank parking lot; Thursdays on Daley Plaza; Saturdays at Division Street; and Sundays at the Beverly market.

The Electronic Benefits Transfer, or EBT/LINK card, is the identification card for participants in the Federal Snap Benefits Food Stamp Program and is offered throughout Illinois to those who qualify. The backs of the cards have a magnetic strip that users swipe through an EBT/LINK machine much like a debit card.

The Mayor’s Office of Special Events is partnering with Experimental Station, a non-profit organization, to administer the program on site. Experimental Station operates the 61st Street Farmers Market.

“Experimental Station is pleased to offer this practical solution to making City of Chicago farmers markets accessible to more Chicagoans. We believe that people who shop at farmers markets not only develop a stronger connection to their food and to the producers of their food, but to one another,” says Connie Spreen, Experimental Station Executive Director.

Expanding EBT/LINK service to farmers markets also allows card users greater access to fresh produce and healthy foods, said Chris Raguso, acting commission in the city’s Department of Community Development.

Chicago Farmers Markets – 19 throughout the city-- offer fresh vegetables, fruits, meats, eggs, plants, baked goods and more. The season officially begins May 13 on Daley Plaza. For more information, call 312-744-3316 or visit

Click here for the 2010 list of Chicago Farmers Markets.

Oscar-Nominated Documentary Tackles Food Production

Cassandra West

By Susan Richardson

Food, Inc., a documentary that explores America's industrialized food system and its effect on the environment, health, and economy, will be shown tonight, Wednesday, April 21, at 9 p.m. on WTTW 11.   The film, which was nominated for an Oscar, examines major issues surrounding food and food production: factory farming, genetic engineering, pesticides, food-borne illnesses, organic food, nutritional labeling, environmental impact, school lunches, obesity, and farm workers' rights.  The documentary is also available on Netflix.

Director Robert Kenner follows the processed chicken at American grocery stores back to cramped chicken houses where the birds are puffed up on steroids.  Kenner also highlights  a working-class family as it struggles to eat healthy on a limited budget.  The documentary is informed by the work of healthy food advocates Eric Schlosser, author of  "Fast Food Nation," and Michael Pollan, author of "The Omnivore's Dilemma."

Michelle Obama takes on food deserts

Cassandra West

[youtube=] First Lady Michelle Obama says "let's move" on ending food deserts to make sure everyone in the U.S. has access to safe, healthy food. Find out what is being done to combat these nutritional wastelands on a trip to Philadelphia with Mrs. Obama and U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. Learn more at

Healthy Food Bill Introduced in US Senate

Cassandra West

By Susan RichardsonNew York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand introduced a new bill Monday aimed at bringing healthy food to underserved communities.  The Healthy Food Financing Initiative, which is supported by the Obama administration, would invest $1 billion in grants and loans to build more than 2,100 new or renovated grocery stores, corner stores, and farmers' markets in urban and rural areas.  A similar version of the bill will be introduced in the House by Reps. Nydia Velazquez (NY), Allyson Schwartz (Penn.), and Earl Blumenauer (Ore.) in the coming weeks.  Read more about the legislation.

Supporting the Healthy Food Financing Initiative

Cassandra West

By Susan Richardson

President Obama has set aside $345 million in his 2011 budget for the Healthy Food Financing Initiative, a program that will provide one-time loans and grant funding to increase healthy food options in underserved communities. Read more about the initiative, which is based on a business model from Philadelphia, and what you can do to support it.


Cassandra West

In recognition of National Poetry Month, we offer this poem of the season by Edna St. Vincent Millay:


To what purpose, April, do you return again? Beauty is not enough. You can no longer quiet me with the redness Of little leaves opening stickily I know what I know. The sun is hot on my neck as I observe The spikes of the crocus. The smell of the earth is good. It is apparent that there is no death But what does that signify? Not only under the ground are the brains of men Eaten by maggots. Life in itself Is nothing, An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs. It is not enough that yearly, down this hill, April Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.

A full-service supermarket for the Near West Side?

Cassandra West

fresh fruit and vegetables Chicago's Near West Side may be getting a 60,000-square-foot full-service supermarket by next summer if the city's Community Development Commission approves the plan, Crain's Chicago Business reported today.

Pete's Fresh Market, which operates six stores on the city's South and Southwest sides and sells organic products, would construct a new store on the southeast corner of Madison Street and Western Ave, its lawyer told Crain's.

Last August, Chicago selected Pete's to develop the 3.5-acre city-owned property, about a half-mile west of the United Center. The area is one of many in the city without a full-service grocer providing fresh fruit, vegetable and other healthy food options for residents. Currently, the nearest supermarkets are more than a mile away.

Trees are budding, but green movement in full bloom

Cassandra West

As the first buds of spring start appearing on trees here in Chicago, we're seeing just how vibrant the local agriculture scene is. It is blooming in so many directions and so many places. This year, we think, is going to be a watershed one. The growing green movement we're trying to chronicle and fully support is exciting and hopeful and positive, and it shows how people working together and cooperating across social and economic borders can bring about meaningful change. Earlier this week, we met Jamal Ali, author of "Black and Green: Black Insights for the Green Movement," and we hope to have an interview with him here soon. In the nutshell, though, his book "is a call to action for the black community to join the green movement." It offers insights, ideas, and strategies that demonstrate how African Americans can benefit from the movement and fuel the go-green effort.

We've also heard talk of a possible Annual Green Conference here in Chicago. Will get back to you with more on that later. At the "Greening the Southside" discussion put on earlier this week by Cafe Society, we heard some powerful arguments for creating neighborhood-based energy co-ops that are designed to keep energy profits in the neighborhood. That certainly sounds interesting and worth pursuing.

Martha Boyd, Program Director, Angelic Organics Learning Center in Woodlawn, shared with us a resource-rich web site, Good Food for All, which offers "local food and agriculture resources for the Greater Chicago Foodshed." We like that term, foodshed. One useful tidbit from the site that caught our eyes was a listing of neighborhood and community gardens operated by the organization, NeighborSpace, which "helps community groups protect and secure their community garden or park."

We have lots of exciting news and coverage ahead. Stay tuned. Meanwhile, we hope you enjoy the lovely weather we're having. Wishing you all a wonderful Easter weekend and a very Good Friday.

How to build community

Cassandra West

What does it take to build a community? Mostly a little effort by all of us. Check out the list here for ideas--or come up with your own. We borrowed most of this list from a poster we got from Chicagoan Naomi Davis, founder of Blacks in Green. Turn off your TV Leave your house Know your neighbor Greet people Look up when you’re walking Plant flowers Use your public library Play together Buy from local merchants and farmers Share what you have Talk to children in your neighborhood Support neighborhood schools Fix it even if you didn’t break it Garden together Pick up litter Read stories aloud Dance in the street Talk to the mail carrier Help carry something heavy Barter for your goods Start a tradition Ask a question Hire young people for odd jobs Organize a block party Bake extra and share Ask for help when you need it Open your shades Sing together Take back the night Listen before you react to anger Mediate a conflict Seek to understand Learn from new and uncomfortable angles Know that no one is silent though many are not heard Work to change that

"Dirt! The Movie" screens @ Chicago Cultural Center

Cassandra West

"DIRT! The Movie" explores the wonders of the soil and tells the story of Earth's most valuable and underappreciated source of fertility.

Chicago Community Cinema will present a screening of "Dirt!" 2 p.m. Saturday, March 20 Chicago Cultural Center 78 E. Washington St. In the Claudia Cassidy Theater

We hope you will come out and join us in viewing this enlightening documentary, which brings to life the environmental, economic, social and political impact of soil around the world. Find out how industrial farming, mining and urban development have led us toward cataclysmic droughts, starvation, floods and climate change.

Narrated by Jamie Lee Curtis, "DIRT! The Movie" shares the stories of experts from around the world who study the beauty and power of soil, which is made from the same elements as the stars, plants and animals, and us.

The movie teaches: "When humans arrived 2 million years ago, everything changed for dirt. And from that moment on, the fate of dirt and humans has been intimately linked."

Dirt is part of everything we eat, drink and breathe--and that's why we should stop treating it like, well...dirt. "DIRT!" is more than a movie. It's a call to action.

Following the film, some of Chicago's most innovative ecologists/gardeners/recyclers will share ideas on composting methods and gardening techniques for city dwellers and talk about ways to transform our urban landscape. The Community Cinema guests are: Ken Dunn, Resource Center Orrin Williams,Center For Urban Transformation Pete Leki and Jordan Rivera, Waters Elementary School Nancy Klehm, Spontaneous Vegetation Moderator: Erin Kennedy, SCARCE

See you there!