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Evolving stories About Growing Food in a Big City

Filtering by Category: Chicago

Native landscaping conference coming to Dominican Univ. May 17

Cassandra West

Native plants
Doug Tallamy
Doug Tallamy

Get ready, all you native plant and garden enthusiasts, your dreams are coming true. The “Living Landscapes Native Garden Conference and Native Plant Sale” takes over Dominican University’s Lund Auditorium from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday, May 17. The conference is being put on by West Cook Wild Ones.

"If you enjoy spending time outside in your garden, you will enjoy it even more when you start choosing plants that are not only beautiful, but provide habitat for birds, bees, butterflies, and other wildlife," Pam Todd, president of West Cook Wild Ones, says. "If you’re not already a native plant enthusiast, you’ll become one after you see how it can bring your yard to life again.”

Doug Tallamy, author of “Bringing Nature Home,” will be the conference's keynote speaker. He’s currently professor and chair of the department of entomology and wildlife ecology at the University of Delaware in Newark, Del. Tallamy has a vision to create a “Homegrown National Park” — a wildlife corridor of native plant habitat in backyards all over the country. He believes that's the best way to slow the rate of extinction of bird and butterfly populations. The urban garden may be the “the last chance we have for sustaining plants and animals that were once common throughout the U.S,” he says.

After Tallamy’s speech, seven expert-led workshops will offer more information and inspiration — and immerse you deeper into topics that range from rain gardens to stormwater management to butterflies, of course.

Other speakers include landscape architect Trish Beckjord of Midwest Groundcovers on designing beautiful native gardens; PhD candidate David Lowenstein on beneficial insects for food gardens; Illinois Native Plant Society President Christopher David Benda on rare plants of the Chicago region for the home garden; Possibility Place Owner Connor Shaw on landscaping with native shrubs and trees; Landscape Designer Julia Bunn on rain gardens; Monica Buckley and Denise Sandoval on playing host to butterflies and moths; and Pizzo Marketing Manager Grace Koehler on native plants for green roofs.

If you ordered plants online in advance during West Cook Wild Ones’ Annual Plant Sale, pick up your purchases at the conference. 

Also, you can attend the conference for free by signing up for a volunteer shift. If you are volunteering, be sure to check out the workshop descriptions, so that you are helping out at the session you would like to attend:

Of renewals, seed swaps and mapping urban gardens in Chicago

Cassandra West


It’s been a while since my last blog post. OK, yes I know. A long while. But the hiatus is over.

I look forward again to digging into the constantly germinating Chicago community gardening/urban farming/local foods scene and sharing what I discover/uncover.

As I look around, I see everything emerging — slowly — from a long winter. You know what that means. Yeah, we might we able to plant something outside soon. But in the meantime, seed swaps are happening all over. (The UIC Heritage Garden is holding its first ever seed swap Sunday, March 29, at the Hull-House Dining Hall, 800 S. Halsted Ave., Chicago.) Garden supply stores are building up their inventories. Community gardens are registering old and new members.

And, speaking of community gardens. They keep cropping up. And so do city farms and more backyard gardens. I mean people are really getting into this growing-themselves-some-food thing. Since I launched this blog in 2010, the growth in urban agriculture hasn’t let up. It does, in fact, seem to be exploding.

seed swap flier
seed swap flier

o see how much urban ag is thriving in our area, jump on over to the Chicago Urban Agriculture Mapping Project (CUAMP), which launched this month. The project had a soft rollout March 7 at the 3rd Annual Chicago Community Gardening Association Gathering held at West Town Academy. The official launch was March 21 at the Good Food Festival & Conference at UIC.

Since around the time this blog started, CUAMP has been mapping and taking an inventory of urban agriculture and community gardens in Chicago. Representatives from nonprofits, urban ag organizations and universities worked together to bring the map to fruition. It’s administered by three entities: NeighborSpace, Advocates for Urban Agriculture and DePaul University’s Steans Center.

At the latest count there are 786 growing sites on the list. You can download an Excel spreadsheet of all them here.

SeedingChicago is beyond happy to see this groundswell of passion for urban gardening, and CUAMP is a huge testament to how serious people are taking local agriculture. And taking it to new heights

CUAMP includes urban gardens and farms of every stripe. On the spreadsheet you can find ownership info, whether a garden produces food, whether it's locked, is a collective or allotment and where gets its water.

Whether you write about urban agriculture as I do, or just want to get out and visit some of the hundreds of gardening sites in Chicago, CUAMP has done us all a great service. And, I appreciate all the effort that has gone into producing this valuable resource.

Loyola to host Urban Food Symposium

Cassandra West


Food. It’s a topic that keeps expanding. And Loyola University Chicago will add to the national conversation on Saturday, September 7, when it hosts the Urban Food Symposium at its new Institute for Environmental Sustainability and Mundelein Center. Thought leaders from Chicago, the Midwest and across the nation will explore social justice, environmental and nutritional issues of food systems and offer innovative ways to approach local, alternative solutions. A municipal policy discussion will feature representatives from Chicago, San Francisco and Boston as well as presentations from more than 10 key players in the local food systems.

Among the speakers are Erika Allen (Growing Power), John Edel (The Plant), Kate Maehr (Chicago Food Depository), Bral Spight (Urban Ponics), Mei Ling Hui (Urban Forest and Urban Agriculture Coordinator, San Francisco Dept. of Environment) and Mari Gallagher. See the full list of speaker profiles. Check the calendar listing to the right for more details.

Urban Farming: Chicago style

Cassandra West

Urban farming has taken root all over this city of concrete sidewalks, glass skyscrapers and red-brick bungalows. It's not unusual to see vegetables growing in raised beds in community gardens on a barren stretch of Madison Street. Or to see a new farmers market open on neighborhood lot. Or a mobile produce market ambling down one of the city's liquor-store, fast-food laden streets. Or to come across chickens scratching outside their coops in a self-styled urban farmer's tiny back yard. That's urban farming Chicago style. It's happening and those who do it say it's here to stay.See it for yourself. Then perhaps you'll see yourself in these images of Chicagoans who are growing food in their own way.

It's seed swap season around Chicago

Cassandra West

This is the time of year for seed swaps around Chicago. Several groups have swaps of all sorts planned this weekend and next. Chicago Botanic Garden Seed Swap Sunday, Feb. 26 2 to 5 p.m. Details: Featuring Diane Ott Whealy co-founder of Seed Savers Exchange and author of “Gathering: Memoir of a Seed Saver.” Diane will give a lecture and sign books from 2 to 3 p.m. Her presentation will be illustrated with photographs from her cottage–style garden at Seed Savers Exchange’s Heritage Farm.

From 3 to 5 p.m. everyone is invited to bring saved seed or excess seed packets to participate in the two-hour exchange. You don’t need to bring seed to swap (taking seed home works, too) and there will be a variety of demonstrations on starting seeds, saving seeds, seed germination testing and more.


The Eco Collective seed swap Sunday Feb 26 2pm-5pm in Pilsen RSVP for the exact address $5 donation (benefits Eco Rooftop garden) Details: Come swap seeds with other gardeners to improve your garden's variety this spring & learn a couple of new things about growing. Bring seeds that you have saved over the growing season, “still viable” seeds that you have left over from last season, or new packs you've purchased for this season. And, bring a dish or drink to share with everyone, because snacks are always good.

The Peterson Garden Project annual seed swap Sunday, March 4 2 to 5 p.m Swedish Covenant Hospital’s Galter Pavilion Second Floor 5140 N. California Free admission Details: Trade your eggplant for zucchini, your cucumber for tomato. In addition to the seed exchange, there will also be opportunities to learn about planting, edible seeds, heirloom vegetables, and more. Peterson Garden Project volunteers will be on hand to discuss their three new community gardens for 2012. Details on sign-up to reserve garden plots will come mid-March; sign up for the Peterson Garden Project newsletter or follow their Facebook page for the latest information on the 2012 growing season.

Chicago ordinance paves way for Englewood urban farm

Cassandra West

The first urban farm developed under Chicago’s new urban agriculture ordinance broke ground Oct. 14 on a one-acre gravel-covered site in Englewood.

Growing Home Inc., which already operates a half-acre agricultural property nearby, will manage the farm and have it planted for the spring 2012 growing season. By next summer the vacant lot will be a verdant oasis of fresh produce in an area that’s often classified as a food desert. Residents of the South Side neighborhood will be able to purchase fresh tomatoes, okra and collard greens—the vegetables most in demand in that area, said Harry Rhodes, executive director of Growing Home.

A decade-old social enterprise, Growing Home has worked for about a year to get a larger farm up and running, Rhodes said. He had wanted to see the new ordinance happen sooner, but its Sept. 8 passage made launching the Honore Street farm easier, he added.

About 50 activists, community leaders and urban agriculture supporters attended the groundbreaking ceremony, including philanthropist Barbara Rose; Martha Boyd, program director for Angelic Organics Learning Center, and researcher Mari Gallagher, who studies the impact of food deserts on urban communities.

Growing Home provides job training for homeless and other individuals who have faced employment challenges. It also partners with community organizations such as Teamwork Englewood, Chicago Community Trust, Boeing and Kennedy-King College to engage individuals and communities in growing food, understanding healthy eating and advocating for sustainable, healthy food systems.

“We’ve succeeded in bringing together many partners,” Rhodes said. “We created the Greater Englewood Urban Agriculture Taskforce. The goal of the taskforce is to create this urban agriculture district. This is the second farm. We want to see 10 farms within a couple of years. We want to see 50 farms here in Englewood.”

Rhodes expects that with the new farm, Growing Home will be able to expand its transitional jobs program. It could possibly grow to about 40 people and employ four full-time people, “creating 50 jobs a year with this site and other farms.”

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin attended the groundbreaking and the reception afterward at Growing Home’s Wood Street Farm less than a block away. He applauded efforts to bring more green to neighborhoods like Englewood, which has its share of vacant lots, desolate stretches and limited food and employment options.

“It’s amazing to me as you drive through these crowded, challenged neighborhoods and, bingo, there you have some terrific greenhouses and some other projects underway.”

Locally grown, locally produced foods taking hold

Cassandra West

Take a look around and perhaps you’ve noticed a trend we’ve been following recently: the growth of locally produced specialty foods and drinks. Increasingly, local foods entrepreneurs are moving beyond selling produce fresh from the garden or farm. Many are now turning locally grown produce into condiments, teas, seasonings, herbal tinctures, bath and body care lotions and salts.

The boutique food products haven’t exactly knocked the Lipton and Heinz brands off supermarket shelves yet, but they’re catching on. You’re still more likely to find them, though, at farmers’ markets and small natural foods stores like Real Naked Foods in Wicker Park, which opened this past spring. And, Oak Park-based Family Farmed is giving a boost by constantly promoting the production and distribution of locally grown and produced food.

We've taking to checking out local foods, purchasing ones that appeal to our tastes — and sometimes just pure curiosity. This summer we picked up a jar of a wonderfully delicious and tangy pickled okra at the Oak Park Farmers Market. And, yes, we liked it a lot.

But it was the Family Farmed Expo that truly opened our eyes to what’s happening in this growing segment of food production. While strolling through FF’s vendor fair at this past spring, Seeding Chicago chatted with many of the vendors who were selling products. (Imagine actually talking with a food producer. You’d be lucky if someone from Heinz even took a call your call.)

We didn’t leave the Expo empty handed. We took home some incredible kombucha (fermented tea) made by Nessalla in Madison, Wis.; a chunky and bold cranberry catsup from The Scrumptious Pantry; a tongue-tingling poblano sauce by Co-Op Sauce, a nonprofit that supports a youth art center and community arts initiatives in Chicago’s Humboldt Park Neighborhood; a package of no-cholesterol spinach tortilla wraps from La Mexicana Tortilleria, Inc., in Chicago, and some out-of-this-world specialty blended teas by SenTEAmental Moods Teas, located here in Chicago.

Lori, the owner of SenTEAmental makes some of the most creative blends anywhere. She's even blended smooth, decadent tea made with sweet potatoes, vanilla, almonds, sunflower, jasmine and calendula petals called Southern Comfort.

You don’t have to take our word for it. Check out the video above and hear directly from this new breed of food producers. And, if you have a favorite local food you’d like to tell us about, Email us here.


Cook County seeks public input on proposed food policy council

Cassandra West

The Cook County Department of Public Health is proposing the creation of a food policy council for Cook County. The food policy council would be an official committee that explores cross-agency and cross-jurisdictional food issues and makes recommendations to the Cook County Board of Commissioners. Do you live or work in Cook County, Illinois? If so, you are invited to complete a survey on how government laws, rules, ordinances, regulations and programs affect the way we eat, grow, transport, store, process, distribute, sell, or handle food or food waste.

The survey results will be used to create recommendations on what issues a proposed Cook County food policy council will focus its efforts. The Cook County food policy council is anticipated to be an official committee that explores cross-agency and cross-jurisdictional food issues and makes recommendations to the Cook County Board of Commissioners. Click here to access the survey.

The survey will be open until September 29, 2011.

To answer the survey in Spanish, call 708-633-8314 or e-mail Para contester esta encuesta en espanol, favor de llamar a 708-633-8314; o escriba a

Please share this opportunity to provide YOUR input on the issues of importance related to food in Cook County by tweeting this post or putting as your Facebook status. Click the Tweet/Facbook buttons above right.

Garfield Park Conservatory teaches greener living

Cassandra West

The Garfield Park Conservatory on Chicago’s West Side is offering another series of workshops for those interested in greener living. We encourage you to check them out. Here’s what coming up next on the Conservatory's “Growing & Green Living” schedule: How to Harvest, Use & Brew Compost Wednesday, Aug. 17, 6-7:30 pm $5 suggested donation

Garfield Park ConservatoryThis session will offer up tips on harvesting both yard waste compost and worm compost, how to use it, and how to modify it to meet specific needs of your space. We will also demonstrate how to make compost tea, as well as different types of materials to make homemade compost sieves. Pre-register online. Kitchen Sink Composting: Indoor Worm Bins for Your Kitchen Saturday, Aug. 20, 10 am – Noon $30 per bin (up to 2 participants) Looking for great compost you can make in your own kitchen? Come to this workshop, learn about worm composting, and leave with your very own kitchen composting bin, complete with worms. Pre-register online. Demonstration: Brewing a Batch of Compost Tea Saturday, Aug. 20, 1-3 pm FREE Drop-in anytime during the designated hours to view a demonstration and chat with Master Composters about how to brew and use compost tea. No pre-registration required. Beginning Beekeeping ONLY A FEW SPACES LEFT – REGISTER TODAY! Saturday, Sept. 3, 9 am – 2 pm $70 (or $50 for GPCA members & approved volunteers) Spend the day with us learning the basics of beekeeping equipment, hive design and construction, bee biology and behavior, bee management and bee products. Pre-registration and payment is required. Register online. Harvesting & Storing Seeds Saturday, Sept. 10, 10 am – Noon $5 suggested donation Seed saving is great for anyone interested in increasing the productivity of their garden. In this workshop we will discover the basics of seed saving for annual, biennial and perennial plants. We will go over hands-on techniques for wet and dry seed harvest, threshing, winnowing and storage. Pre-register online.

FAQs on proposed urban ag ordinance in Chicago

Cassandra West

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration is moving along with plans to define urban agriculture in Chicago as it tries to get an ordinance passed by the City Council. In late July, the Mayor’s Office released an FAQ on urban agriculture and a document on urban farms (commercial) and community gardens (non-commercial).

One difference between an urban farm and a community garden will be size, according to the proposed ordinance. An urban farm would have no size limit, while a community garden would be limited to 25,000 square feet.

Here’s more on how Chicago would distinguish urban farms and gardens:

Urban Farms (Commercial) • Fully recognizes and allows urban farms and methods of food production indoors, outdoors, and on rooftops. Also allows sales. • Allows aquaponics (growing fish and plants together) and hydroponics. • There is no specific size limit on urban farms. • Rules around landscaping and fencing requirements in and around certain parking areas and outdoor work or storage areas are relaxed. May be required depending on location and the specific activity taking place. When required, type of fencing will be approved on case-by-case basis by DHED. • Urban farmers will have the option to work with the City in order to design screening surrounding outdoor areas and develop ways to meet parkway requirements. • Composting is allowed but limited only to the materials generated on site, and must be used on site. • Allows keeping of up to 5 beehives. Community Gardens (Non-commercial) • Legalizes sales of plants and produce grown on site so long as sales are secondary to the primary gardening activity or surplus produce. • Expands the size limit on all community gardens to 25,000 square feet. There is no size limit for community gardens in parks and open space districts. • Allows and clarifies rules about greenhouses, sheds, hoophouses, and farmstands as accessory uses of community gardens. The size limit on these is expanded to 575 square feet. • Composting is allowed but limited only to the materials generated on site, and must be used on site. • Allows keeping of up to 5 beehives.

Emanuel plans to expand urban agriculture in Chicago

Cassandra West

Mayor Rahm Emanuel plans to expand community gardens and urban farms to promote economic development, job creation and increase access to healthier food options in Chicago's food deserts.

“It is unacceptable that thousands of Chicagoans live in communities that lack access to fresh foods,” Emanuel said Tuesday during a ribbon-cutting for the urban Iron Street Farm. “I am committed to adopting innovative solutions that will increase access to fresh fruits and vegetables while creating jobs in order to ensure Chicagoans have the food options they need to lead a healthy lifestyle.”

Emanuel said he wants to increase urban agriculture in an effort to eliminate food deserts across the city while also creating green jobs such as those at Iron Street Farm. The seven-acre farm will create up to 150 jobs.

Many have noted that local food production also provides recreational opportunities and reduces energy costs.

If passed, the proposed ordinance will: • Expand the size limit on community gardens to 25,000 square feet; • Relax fencing and parking requirements on larger commercial urban farms in order to hold down overhead costs for the entrepreneurs and community organizations that launch and maintain these enterprises; and • Create green jobs and provide fresh produce in communities. The ordinance is expected to be introduced Thursday to the City Council and could be voted on in September, according to the Tribune.

This ordinance is another step in Chicago’s plan to increase food access and eliminate food deserts. Other steps the City has already taken include: • Convening a food desert summit in June with the CEOs of major grocery chains in Chicago and asked them to build stores in food deserts and increase healthy foods options; • Announcing Walgreens initiative to build more than a dozen new stores, include fresh produce in 39 existing stores currently in food deserts, while creating 300 new jobs in those communities; and • Hosting a pre-planning workshop with stakeholders from the community health, neighborhood development and urban growing sectors.

Emanuel also referred to the initiative announced last week by first lady Michelle Obama as part of her Partnership for a Healthier America initiative aimed at eliminating food deserts in the U.S. within seven years.

A week ago, Wal-Mart, Supervalu, Walgreens and a number of independent grocers, announced in a press conference with Mrs. Obama they will commit to increase the availability of fresh food into areas that have been designated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as "food deserts."

In coming months, the City will continue to address issues of food access, growing and distributing food, food enterprises, supplemental food programs, nutrition education and public awareness, with the overall goal of increasing public health and reducing childhood obesity, according to a statement from the mayor’s office.

RELATED: Retailers commit to open stores in food deserts

Fresh Moves mobile food market hits Chicago streets

Cassandra West

In urban communities known as “food deserts,” fresh, healthy produce is often nowhere to be found. Processed meats, sodas and chips, though, are available in abundance.

To improve nutrition and curb the consumption of too many empty calories, residents in food deserts need access to more fruits and vegetables. Now, there’s an option.

The Fresh Moves mobile market makes a stop at New Bethel Life Center. /Seeding Chicago photo

Fresh Moves, a mobile food market, has come to two Chicago neighborhoods — Austin and Lawndale. On Wednesdays and Thursdays, the converted CTA bus pulls up to pre-designated locations offering all to climb aboard and load up on apples, cucumbers, bananas, collards, kale, mustard greens and more. Fresh Moves even stocks some organic items, at prices much more affordable than retail chains such as Whole Foods Markets, which are often located in more affluent communities.

Fresh Moves mobile market includes a driver and two retail assistants who are happy to hop off the bus and take orders from customers with mobility problems.

The idea for Fresh Moves sprang up three years ago, when food activists Steve Casey, Sheelah Muhammad and Jeff Pinzino, who all have backgrounds in philanthropy, decided it was time to do something about the lack of access to fresh, healthy foods in poor, economically isolated neighborhoods.

The three started the grass-roots organization, Food Desert Action and went about seeking support and funding. They got the Chicago Transit Authority to donate the bus for the price of $1. Architecture for Humanity rehabbed the bus. Chase Foundations donated some funds. Good City, a West Side organization that provides emerging entrepreneurs and community leaders with training and knowledge to implement innovative and necessary programs in the city’s underserved neighborhoods, became their fiscal agent. A Chicago nonprofit EPIC: Engaging Philanthropy, Inspiring Creatives, INC. donated approximately $70,000 worth of creative and branding services, Casey says.

Shawn Jackson, principal of Spencer Technology Academy, a Chicago Public School in Austin, has gladly welcomed Fresh Moves to the neighborhood, and the mobile market visits his school on Thursday mornings from 9:30 a.m. to noon.

“This is a food desert here,” says Jackson, referring to the area around Spencer. “There are no healthy food options at all. I mean a grease pit. McDonald’s is the default food here. … This is what my [students] are exposed to.

“To run into something like Fresh Moves was a godsend. The fact that you have a group of individuals willing to do this was superb.”

Jackson says he believes good eating habits can start at school, if not at home. When Fresh Moves visited Spencer “last Thursday, every student purchased something," Jackson says. "We want kids at home saying, 'Hey, the Fresh Moves bus is coming.' ”

Chicagoan LaDonna Redmond joins Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy

Cassandra West

LaDonna Redmond LaDonna Redmond (Seeding Chicago photo)

LaDonna Redmond, the new Food and Justice Senior Program Associate for The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, was back in Chicago this weekend for the Family Farmed Expo.

Redmond, who recently relocated to Minneapolis to join IATP, is a Chicago native who built a national reputation around advocating for equitable food access, developing farmers markets and improving the food system process. She has worked to get Chicago Public Schools to evaluate junk food, launched urban agriculture projects, started a community grocery store and worked on federal farm policy to expand access to healthy food in low-income communities. Redmond is also a former Food and Society Policy Fellow.

In her new post at IATP, Redmond will work on looking at how the food system has impacted everyone, and not just through dietary outcomes, she says. She will also grant money to researchers and scholars to study the inequities and health disparities in the food system. She is currently seeking proposals for a literature review on the health consequences of racial and economic injustice in relationship to ALL aspects of the food system. The purpose of the review is to map the research that is currently available on these topics and the gaps in data that need to be addressed.

Redmond said she will also be working on creating a network of food justice activists and how to tell the correct narrative around food justice and the food system.

Here’s a video of our interview with Redmond:

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.