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Evolving stories About Growing Food in a Big City

Filtering by Category: Sustainability

#Recycle your heart out May 2 in River Forest

Cassandra West

greenrecyclingsymbolWe've all got stuff we want to get rid of. Here's your chance to do it in a responsible way. If you live in the western suburbs of Chicago, bring your stuff to the Recycling Extravaganza at River Forest United Methodist Church on Sat., May 2 between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. Click here to view the flier: Recycling Extravaganza 2015 Here's what you and bring:

ELECTRONICS: computers televisions radios VCRs-DVD players toasters

blenders electric coffee makers-microwaves vacuum cleaners (take out the dust collection bag)

monitors cell phones dial phones answering machines scanners printers keyboards

hard drives copiers cable boxes/modems circuit boards switches cameras, projectors

insulated wire/cable power supplies de-humidifiers air conditioners

SCRAP METAL: radiators metal lawn furniture metal hangers rusty swing sets

metal garbage cans metal garden tools water heaters metal railings metal pots and

pans gutters metal shovels metal shelving metal wagons metal pipes metal wheel

barrows metal chicken wire tomato cages auto radiators

BATTERIES: A-C-D-9 volt Ni Cad-Lithium button batteries car motorcycle sump

pump computer back up, boat lawn mower batteries rechargeable

MISCELLANEOUS: musical instruments keys rulers pencils crayons usable spiral

notebooks yarn rubber stamps buttons ink jet cartridges CFL bulbs (fluorescent tubes)

tattered and torn American Flags for proper retirement corks eye glasses hearing aid

propane & oxygen tanks fire extinguishers working & non-working bikes sewing machine

regular wheelchairs (non-electric) bike helmets bike baskets pet items leashes collars

crates blankets.







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

One Earth Film Fest April 27-29 in Oak Park/River Forest

Cassandra West

To stimulate dialogue and inspire planet-friendly action, Green Community Connections in Oak Park is hosting its first One Earth Film Fest 2012 April 27-29.The planning committee evaluated and considered more than 300 films, then narrowed its final selections to 16 feature-length films that have received critical acclaim within the green film community. Another 12-17 shorter features also will be part of the eclectic mix of cinematic offerings during the weekend, which kicks off with a

Green Carpet Gala at Oak Park Conservatory on the evening of April 27. Several of the films being shown include “The Last Mountain,” “Waste Land,” “A Fierce Green Fire,” “What’s On Your Plate?” “Wall-E,” “Journey of the Universe” and “Queen of the Sun.” Showings will take place at multiple venues in Oak Park and River Forest. “Our intent is to cultivate awareness, spur involvement, and promote environmental sustainability in our own community and beyond,” said Sally Stovall, who led one of the planning committees. “The films chosen by Green Community Connections for its first festival are compelling, powerful and rich in their diversity of topics, but also focused on inspiring each of us to think about the role we can play in protecting our planet. We’re hoping to offer something meaningful for every member of the family.” Tickets and a complete list of films and show times are available at One Earth Film Festival 2012. Admission is free to most screenings and events. Advance ticket purchases are required for the “Green Carpet Gala” on Friday, April 27. For more information on the fest, visit Green Community Connection’s festival page and its Facebook page. You can also follow the group on Twitter.

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.

Chicago forum focuses on ethics, sustainability

Cassandra West


If the sky knew half of what we’re doing down here

it would be stricken, inconsolable, and we would have nothing but rain — Brian Turner

Kathleen Dean Moore and Michael P. Nelson, the editors of “Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril,” will be at the Chicago Botanic Garden Friday, Oct. 29 for a daylong forum on ethics and sustainability. Their book includes contributions from more than 80 visionaries—naturalists, scientists, activists, theologians, poets, professors, philosophers and leaders from across the intellectual, political, religious and cultural spectrum and from around the world.

In essays and sometimes poems, stories and economic analyses, the contributors make their case for why humans have a moral obligation to take action to assure the future of our planet. The poem above comes from one of New Zealand’s leading poets, and it is his complete contribution.

Other contributors include Derrick Jensen, an environmental activist and small farmer who writes: “Industrial capitalism always destroys the land on which it depends for raw materials, and it always will.”

Writers Barbara Kingsolver and bell hooks both look back over U.S. history for lessons on how social progress unfolds. Nobel Peace Prize winner and founder of Africa’s Green Belt Movement Wangari Maathai writes that we are all called to help heal the Earth. “In the course of history, there comes a times when humanity is called to shift to a new level of consciousness, to reach a higher moral ground,” she writes.

Each of the book’s 14 sections ends with an “Ethical Action” — from how to protect the children to how to express gratitude to the Earth for all its gifts.

The Chicago Botanic Garden’s website has complete information on the “Chicago Regional Forum on Ethics and Sustainability,” 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Oct. 29. Tickets to the symposium also can be purchased online.

Kathleen Dean Moore is Distinguished Professor of Philosophy and University Writer Laureate at Oregon State University, where she teaches environmental ethics and moral reasoning. Michael P. Nelson holds a joint appointment as professor of environmental ethics and philosophy in the Lyman Briggs College, the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, and the Department of Philosophy at Michigan State University.

Seeding Chicago spoke with Moore and Nelson by phone Monday, Oct. 25. You can listen to the interview by clicking the play arrow in the video box (top right).

South African couple adds to continent's 'Green Revolution'

Cassandra West


By Susan Richardson

Grahamstown, South Africa --Zolile and Charlotte Mbali grow greens in discarded car tires.  They provide an excellent growing environment, the couple said, and help prevent soil erosion on their plot in the township of Clermont in the outer west of Durban.  And, best of all, the tires are free, said Charlotte.

Tires are not widely used in South Africa for planting, but they are more common elsewhere.

The Mbalis dream that their organic garden will contribute to economic opportunities -- not just healthier food -- for many of the unemployed youth in Clermont.  "Thousands of people in South Africa need unskilled work with their hands," said Charlotte. 

The couple also works with women who make slippers and shoes by hand, selling the items at festivals and other events. The Mbalis attended the National Festival of the Arts in Grahamstown, where they promoted their garden with T-shirts, including one that reads "Support Township Gardening in South Africa."  The front of the T-shirt depicts the logo for the Mbalis' garden: a tire with greens growing in it.

Efforts to create an “African Green Revolution” – the theme of an upcoming conference in Ghana - are in progress across the continent to help bolster agricultural production through transforming  many small, subsistence farms into commercial ventures.  The goal of organizations such as the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa is to help  Africa become a food basket so it can feed itself and the world.

The Mbalis' focus is much smaller: grow food on their plot, provide work and ultimately become a destination for tourists who are interested in urban gardening. 

Zolile's mother left him the land near Durban when she died. Unlike other townships under apartheid, Clermont allowed black people to own land. His mother scraped together the money to buy the plot over several years, paying 1 pound a year for 12 years until she received the title in 1954. The garden is called the E. Mbali Garden in her memory.

In 2008, the Mbalis decided to use the land to stimulate more vegetable gardening in the township. The plot is deeply banked with a small double waterfall from a storm drain at one end, the Mbalis explained. An embankment of car tires was constructed to stop soil erosion.  Two gardeners who worked on the site were trained by a community gardening project.  A recent worker is a man who once squatted on the land. 

The Mbalis are trying to complete a building that will be used as a training center and a nursery and shop, they said. But they need additional funds to finish the structure. When they have finished construction and related work, they hope the garden will offer lunch for tourists, including various greens that grow wild.  The Mbalis plan to employ the same women who make the shoes to prepare the food her husband enjoyed as a child.

For the first 10 years of his life, Zolile lived on his grandfather's farm. His father was Xhosa from the Transkei region. The main staple dish in rural Transkei is gnushu- crushed maize kernals cooked with beans and a garnish of  homegrown pumpkin or wild greens, or whatever is in season.

Charlotte said people in rural areas and other places can still pick wild herbs that  "are quite nutritious. And they are all over Southern Africa, and they may be a better diet than the wild rush we are having to fast food here in South Africa. "

The E. Mbali Garden is located at 55 Twentieth St., Clermont. The Mbalis can be reached at

Will Allen on the urban farm revolution

Cassandra West

CHICAGO — Even if you know only a little about urban agriculture, you’ve probably heard of Will Allen, the nation’s foremost local food movement leader and advocate. Allen, who founded the Milwaukee-based urban farm and education center Growing Power Inc., was in Chicago at Fourth Presbyterian Church Thursday (June 24) evening to talk about his good food movement, which is “really about social justice,” he says.

Allen's presentation, titled “The Urban Farm Revolution: Growing Power and the Importance of Sustainable Local Food Production,” was an overview of Growing Power’s work since 1995 as a not-for-profit training center that focuses on urban agriculture methods and building community food security systems. He also talked about his organization’s work in Chicago, specifically a community outreach project and collaboration with Fourth Church called Chicago Lights Urban Farm.

Growing Power helped establish the urban farm (444 W. Chicago Ave.), which this year expanded to become an urban farm with year-round food production. The farm provides access to affordable organic produce and nutrition education and promotes economic development.

“All should have access to safe, affordable, nutritious food at all times,” Allen said before presenting a slideshow on Growing Power’s numerous projects in Milwaukee and around the world. He said his mission and vision are to bring people together, and “one of the best ways to bring people together is around food…that’s when wonderful things happen.”

Allen is an innovator in composting, vermicomposting (using worms to refine and fertilize compost) and aquaponics (growing fish and food plants in a closed system). Perhaps his strongest message Thursday was the importance of rethinking how and where food is grown. Straight-faced and serious, he declared that food can grow on asphalt. Several of his slides showed images of vegetable-laden soil mounds that Growing Power has installed on top of hard-surface urban lots.

Of the food we consume, 99 percent of it is “shipped in,” Allen said. “If we had local food production, we’d create a lot of jobs.” That’s really the social justice component of what Allen calls the good food movement.

Donnell Williams

Community organizer Donnell Williams, who came out to meet and hear Allen, told Seeding Chicago he wants to change how residents in his Roseland neighborhood access healthy food. He and others are starting a farmers market along with a local church. But his chief concern is to end food deserts and seek ways to bring in food-related jobs that can help "sustain the community," he said.

Jeremy Nowak urges food funders to learn from practice

Cassandra West

By Susan Richardson PHILADELPHIA -- Funders and philanthropies should be willing to learn from practice in creating models for access to healthy food, said Jeremy Nowak, president and CEO of The Reinvestment Fund (TRF), speaking on the second day of the Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Funders conference in Philadelphia.

"Look at creating a live laboratory for financing and development of the food movement," said Nowak (left), whose nonprofit organization played a key role in developing Pennsylvania's Healthy Food Financing Initiative. The initiative has increased the number of grocers, farmers markets and other outlets for healthy food in underserved, low-income communities in Philadelphia and is a model for national legislation supported by the White House.

Funders must be willing to support practices and policies that sometimes lead to "dead ends," he said, adding that  "development is iterative." The alternative is to wait for a comprehensive approach that can result in inaction, he said.

Nowak's comments at Wednesday's session of the food funders conference focused on lessons from TRF's involvement in financing healthy food. The organization's work in the food movement began about six years ago, at the request of a leading state official who inquired about the  dearth of grocers in Philadelphia's inner-city communities.   (Nowak credited the Food Trust with generating interest in the issue.)  Grocers told Nowak that  the cost of doing business in the communities was steeper than in suburban areas because of  training, infrastructure and insurance.

Two critical lessons emerged from the experience: listening is critical to understanding the issues grocers face and demand has to be created for more healthy food choices. In the absence of healthy choices, Nowak said, people get used to what they are offered.

"Don't build down to the market; build up to the market," Nowak said.  The approach, he added, will help change consumer expectations in communities where both the quality of the food and the quality of service are often lacking.

TRF has helped create access to healthy food for more than 1 million people, including 80 markets, 25 of which are in Philadelphia.

The city is like many urban areas across the country. It suffers from a rise in vacant lots and abandoned properties and a declining population.  Philadelphia's food deserts reflect the demographic transformation of the city and its corresponding economic challenges.

Nowak said the key question is: "How do you catalyze economic growth in ways that advantage low-income people and places and get them into the mainstream economy?"

TRF's mission is to work in the "sweet spot between growth and equity," he said. The organization, which manages $700 million, views itself as a capital and information intermediary that can work in the "gray area between civics and markets," he said.

Learn more about the SAFSF conference.

Food funders gather in Philadelphia to discuss urban agriculture

Cassandra West

Awbury Arboretum in Germantown By Susan Richardson

PHILADELPHIA -- The 8th Annual Forum of the Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Funders began with a reminder of how far the food movement has come since the group first met in 2003.  Thirty people attended SAFSF's inaugural conference in San Francisco; 155 people are attending  this year's conference in Philadelphia, said Executive Director Virginia Clarke on Tuesday, the first day of the event.

The rising interest mirrors the growing national conversation about urban agriculture, Clarke said. Citing a recent article by food guru Michael Pollan comparing the food movement to a "big lumpy tent," she said the movement's diverse participants, including lawyers, urban planners and designers, and philanthropists, can learn from each other despite differences.

The food movement has taken off, said Greg Horner, a program officer at the Cedar Tree Foundation in Boston and moderator of the opening plenary. He noted several examples, from the federal government's support for an office of urban agriculture within the U. S. Department of Agriculture to increased support for food initiatives by funders.

The panelists for the opening plenary, "Shall We Dance? How New Partners Are Helping to Build a Stronger Food System for All," reflected the range of interests coalescing around the food movement, including social equity, urban design and planning, and health and environmental protection.

Tour guide Joan Reilly, senior director Pennsylvania Horticultural Society

Panelists were Kimberley Hodgson, manager of the Planning and Community Health Research Center at the American Planning Association; Maria Salgado, programs director of Nuestras Raices in Holyoke, Mass.; and Jason McLennan, an architect and CEO of Cascadia Region Green Building Council.

Emphasizing that urban agriculture is about more than food, Hodgson presented an overview of  initiatives across the country, from farms to community gardens to food banks.  Urban agriculture can help build communities, provide skills training and a recent survey states that it can increase property values in the surrounding neighborhood.  To succeed, urban communities have to overcome some risks, including soil and water contamination, she said.  Raised beds may make it possible to grow healthy food in these communities, but contaminants such as lead, zinc, and chromium can still negatively effect children who play in gardens.

Cities such as Cleveland are increasingly seeing the benefit of urban agriculture for economic development.  In conjunction with Cuyahoga County, the city is tapping into agriculture to create new jobs and businesses, Hodgson said.  The city has a goal to create one community garden per one-quarter square mile.  Cleveland changed its zoning ordinance to create an urban agriculture category, and allows residents to keep small animals such as pigs and chickens.

Salgado discussed how urban agriculture can help build social equity, using examples from Nuestras Raices' work in Holyoke.  The city has the highest percentage of Puerto Ricans of any city outside of the island and also ranks among the poorest cities in the country.  Asthma and obesity are staggering.  "You can't look at urban blight in silos," she said, adding that a "systemic" approach is necessary.

Formed a year ago, Nuestras Raices seeks to address these issues through developing jobs and businesses geared toward urban agriculture and energy conservation.  The organization has developed 10 community gardens with 100 families. It has a green jobs training program for youth, some of whom are working to complete their GEDs. And it plans to open a store that specializes in pork (or a Lechonera), which is popular in the community.

Nuestras Raices (Our Roots, in English) also seeks to grow a heritage: Puerto Rico's agricultural tradition.  Many of the younger generation have rejected it, Salgado said, viewing farming as a "stigma" and moving backwards, rather than a way to make a living.

McLennan, a leading international green building architect, explored how sustainable development can reinforce urban agriculture. He called for re-establishing the relationship between cities and food production, which was lost with the evolution of the modern city.  Citing films such as "Mad Max" and "Blade Runner," and cartoons such as "The Jetsons,"  McLennan said Americans have a vision of the future where they live in very dense settings removed from natural space and get their food by pushing a button.

McClennan said The Living City Design Competition, sponsored by the International Living Building Institute, supports efforts to create more sustainable cities.

With 40,000 vacant lots and a population that has dropped significantly in the last decade, Philadelphia is an example of how a city can tap into urban agriculture to create new economic opportunities.  Following the opening plenary, conference participants spent the afternoon touring urban agriculture projects in the area.

The conference continues through Friday.  For resources and to learn more about the panelists, visit the SAFSF website.

Shabazz Food Hub connects farms and cities

Cassandra West

A young volunteer at Shabazz Food Hub Market Days By Susan Richardson The smell of mustard greens sautéed in olive oil with garlic fills the air in an auditorium at Betty Shabazz International Charter School in Chicago.  People browse and buy produce and seedlings on a Saturday afternoon. It is Market Day at the Shabazz Food Hub.

Twice a month, hub members come to pick up preordered produce; others shop for greens, millet, papaya, sunflower seeds and other healthy foods.  And vendors sell items including homemade bean pies and organic juices, completing the menu.

The food hub is a project of the charter school and Black Oaks Center for Sustainable Renewable Living, an eco-campus and farm in Pembroke Township that seeks to restore the link between African-Americans and their agrarian past, encourage collective economics and promote health and locally grown food.  Based in the historically black farming community about an hour from Chicago, the Center  sponsors training sessions for students and others, teaching them about composting and growing their own food and the politics and history of food production and distribution.

Shabazz Food Hub is one of two food centers in Chicago sponsored by Black Oaks.  The other is run through the office of Dr. Jifunza Wright Carter, who, with her husband, Fred Carter, founded the Center.

“Ideally we want to have hubs that sort of dot the city and in different areas where there is not access to the food,” said Mike Strode, coordinator of the Shabazz Food Hub and parent of a daughter at the charter school.

U.S. consumers are growing more aware of the ills of processed foods and the dangers of a global food delivery system that ships vegetables, fruits and meat thousands of miles from their point of origin.  Transporting the food across the globe threatens the environment and also raises food security issues in an age of terrorism and volatile political conflicts.

In African-American communities, access to healthy food has become a public health, social justice and economic rights issue.  Studies show the link between access to healthy food and food-related illness. Blacks suffer from diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure at higher rates than whites, yet are least likely to have a quality grocer in their neighborhoods.

Research from Policy Link, an advocacy organization that works for food justice, reports that 8 percent of African -Americans live in a census tract with a supermarket, compared to 31 percent of whites.  A report by Policy Link and the Food Trust recommends developing retail outlets such as farmers’ markets, coops, farm stands, mobile vendors, and other community-supported agriculture programs to help address health disparities and encourage economic development.

At the Shabazz Charter School students are served vegetarian meals and food has long been a part of the educational process, said Strode.  Launched in November 2009,  the hub makes it easier for parents and the surrounding community to embrace a healthier diet. In addition, the Shabazz Food Hub connects with the school’s African-centered principles, in particular the concept of ujamaa, or collective economics, and the teachings of Maat. The principles are reflected among the volunteers at the Hub, who refer to each other as Baba (for men) and Mama (for women), terms that denote respect, and, most important,  community.

Market Day also includes cooking demonstrations that emphasize healthy preparation of healthy food.  Like millet with cinnamon, nutmeg and butter, and a new way to prepare chard, with natural peanut butter melted and tossed with tomato and onions.  Strode said the market and the demonstrations encourage people to try “foods they are not familiar with.”  And show  them how good healthy food can taste.

Coming Up: Seeding Chicago's visit to Black Oaks Center and interviews with Fred Carter and Dr. Jifunza Wright Carter.

How far does your food travel?

Cassandra West

Agricultural Footprint BriefWe found the above chart while reading a 2003 report from the Agriculture Footprint Brief titled "Eating up the Earth: How Sustainable Food Systems Shrink Our Ecological Footprint." The local-food movement goes beyond city dwellers' desire to work in a garden because it's a cool idea. It has strong ecological implications we all should consider.

"The Earth provides a perpetual bounty as long as we don’t destroy its self-renewing capacity with our appetites. Today, however, we are eating up the planet," the Agriculture Footprint Brief states.

"Our global food system, with its resource-intensive production and distribution, is using almost half the planet’s ecological capacity and is slowly degrading our natural resource base. To assure our well-being, we must close the gap between human demand and ecological capacity. Sustainable food systems offer viable opportunities to shrink humanity’s food Footprint to a size the Earth can support."