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Evolving stories About Growing Food in a Big City

Filtering by Category: Hot Topics

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.

Chicago's South Shore gets a farmers market

Cassandra West

Farmers market
South Shore Farmers Market
South Shore Farmers Market

With the Chicago skyline as a backdrop and the lakeshore at its doorstep, the city’s newest outdoor produce stand—South Shore Farmers Market at Rainbow Beach Park—opens on Sunday, June 23.

South Shore Farmers Market joins other city-run farmers markets that provide urban residents easy access to fresh and locally harvested produce. The market is a collaboration between the Ashe Park and Rainbow Beach Park Advisory Councils.

“We’re definitely a food desert and everybody’s looking for a place to get fresh food,” says Marion Brown, a South Shore resident and member of the Rainbow Park Advisory Council who co-chairs the team behind the market.

The South Shore market will bring the number of city-run South Side farmers markets to three, although city officials tend to count the Bridgeport farmers market among its “South Side” operations. The other South Side farmers markets are in Pullman (Wednesdays, 111th and Cottage Grove) and Beverly (Sundays, 95th and Longwood).

Chicago’s official farmers market season kicked off on May 16 and runs through the end of October.

Unlike most farmers markets in the city that get their produce from Michigan and Indiana farmers, the South Shore Farmers Market will source its vegetables from urban farmers and even container gardeners, Brown says.

It will be located on Chicago Park District property and operated by the City of Chicago. Hours of operation are 1 to 5 p.m. on Sundays through Aug. 25. Depending on how well the market is received, it may extend it season beyond that date, Brown says.

Market planners are trying to keep vendor fees reasonable. They’ve started a market collective that allows smaller growers to pool their resources to reduce the expense of participating in the market and reduce the amount of produce needed to sell, Qae-Dah Muhammad, vendor manager, says. The weekly fee to sell at the market is $15 and all vendors must have insurance.

Primarily an agricultural market, South Shore Farmers Market also will offer products by local bakers and specialty food producers; live plant, flowers and herb growers, plus food-related products and services. The market plans to work with local food pantries and encourage its vendors to donate any unsold products that would otherwise spoil.

With this market, customers can expect more than fresh produce and healthier fare than is generally available to Southeast Chicago residents. The group that envisioned the market wants to educate the community about healthy food, cooking/eating, food production and growing edible gardens. They also want to bring attention to one their community’s underutilized resources: city parks.

One Earth Film Fest serves up food films

Cassandra West

960-Indian food-Holi

Food is on the menu at this weekend’s One Earth Film Festival. Three films, “Ingredients," “Food Patriots” and “Soul Food Junkies,” will take up issues related to the dark side of the food industry, the growing food justice movement and how activists, farmers and plenty of fed-up people are fighting back against a broken and unhealthy food system.

Last we heard, plenty of tickets are still available to the festival, which starts Friday, March 1 and continues through Sunday, March 3 in locations around Oak Park, River Forest and Forest Park. The second-year festival will extend beyond its suburban roots this year with the screening of “Soul Food Junkies,” taking place March 3 at Saint Martin’s Episcopal Church, 5700 W. Midway Park, in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood

Chicago Food hubs connect producers, buyers

Cassandra West

Fresh Moves mobile market
The Fresh Moves mobile market at a West Side site.
The Fresh Moves mobile market at a West Side site.

The U. S. Department of Agriculture has compiled the first Regional Food Hub Resource Guide, which lists these innovative business models across the country—from Amissville, Va., to Salinas, Calif. The guide will interest those looking for businesses that connect producers with buyers.

"The Regional Food Hub Resource Guide is an important tool to help promote local and regional efforts to support small and medium-sized producers," Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan says. "Food hubs play a critical role in developing stronger supply chains and addressing the infrastructure challenges while supporting food access, regional economic development and job creation."

Food hubs allow farmers, especially smaller ones, to meet the growing consumer demand for fresh, local food. The resource guide lists four Chicago food hubs. Two are nonprofits, Fresh Moves Mobile Produce Market and Healthy Food Hub; two are privately held businesses, Goodness Greenness and Gourmet Gorilla. Fresh Moves is a mobile produce market that delivers fresh fruits and vegetables to underserved areas of Chicago, mainly on the West Side. (See our earlier post on Fresh Moves) Healthy Food Hub, through its biweekly market days, connects residents, mainly on the South Side, with fresh produce from regional and national farmers. (See our earlier post on the Healthy Food Hub.) Goodness Greeness is the Midwest’s leading source for fresh, organic produce and the largest privately held organic distributor in the country, according to its website. Gourmet Gorilla™ provides pre-schools, elementary and high school and other institutions, with breakfast, lunch and snacks delivered daily.

In 2011, USDA identified more than 170 food hubs operating around the country.

Suburban gardener maximizes her space for growing food

Cassandra West

Debbie slider

Master gardener Debbie Kong

Debbie Kong, a master gardener and gardening educator in Chicago's western suburbs, gave us a tour recently of her spread. Debbie decided this year to expand her “farmette,” as we fondly refer to her garden, and use more of her land to grow food. She and her daughter, who's known as Little Green Girl, worked hard this year to grow as much food in as little space as possible, she says.

Debbie planted her garden thoughtfully, planning every square foot like an architect trying to get the maximum use from a small lot on which to erect a tall building. To do that, she took advantage of some vertical farming concepts. And what is she growing? Watermelons, potatoes, strawberries, beans, tomatoes, eggplant, lettuces and a variety of rabbit-repelling plants.

Here’s a tour of one section of her urban farm:

A tour of Debbie's garden from Cassandra West on Vimeo.