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Evolving stories About Growing Food in a Big City

Filtering by Category: Video

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.

A simple seed germination test

Cassandra West

With seed swap season in full swing, many of us are swooping up all kinds of seeds with visions of nutritious vegetables dancing in our heads. But what if those seeds don’t yield what we’re expecting? How does one test seeds to make sure they’ll grow into edibles? During Chicago Botanic Garden’s recent seed swap, Lisa Hilgenberg, a horticulturist there, demonstrated a simple seed germination test that anyone can do. Watch the video to see how you can, too.

Lisa Hilgenberg, Chicago Botanic Garden horticulturist demonstrates a simple seed germination test.

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.


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.

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:

Family Farmed Expo Report: The USDA and urban agriculture

Cassandra West

Ann Wright, USDA Deputy Undersecretary for Marketing and Regulatory programs

Ann Wright, USDA Deputy Undersecretary for Marketing and Regulatory programs, was at the Family Farmed Expo this weekend to talk about the department’s “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” initiative, farmers’ markets and food deserts.

She said, “agricultural marketing service has a key role in supporting farmers’ markets and the development of regional and local food systems across the country.”

Wright spoke with Seeding Chicago about the USDA’s nutrition programs, the department’s focus on combating obesity and the “exciting” work being done in urban agriculture to raise people’s awareness and empower communities.

Here are some comments Wright shared with Seeding Chicago:

A Sunday seed swap and seed starting demonstration

Cassandra West

Having never gone to a seed swap, I had only a vague idea of what to expect when I signed up for the Forest Park Community Garden 2011 Annual Seed Swap and Seed Starting Demonstration.

Would anyone be remotely interested in the garden-variety Burpee seeds I wanted to swap? Would the swappers be tripping over each other to get their hands on a package of exotic, hard-to-find seeds? Would there be anything new to learn about seeds?

Yes. No. Most definitely.

Seeds are fascinating little unborn plants, and gardeners of all levels, I’ve found, love to cradle and fuss over them. And, a seed swap is a great place to cultivate a deeper appreciation of those little babies we want to help grow to maturity. Luckily for many of us, the committee that organized the Forest Park swap thought to make a seed starting demonstration part of the afternoon. They also provided catalogs from some of the country’s top seed retailers for us swappers to take home and swoon over later.

Master gardener trainee Debbie Kong, an avid and resourceful suburban farmer, presented the seed demonstration, assisted by her daughter, Kara, who she calls Little Green Girl. Packing their demonstration with lots of practical information, they explained the characteristics and germination schedules of popular seeds.

We asked Debbie to tell us one of the most important facts we should know about seeds. “Seeds should not be more than two years old (this varies on the type of seed) because their germination rates declines,” she said.

And what kinds of seeds are urban gardeners looking for today? “Gardeners are now buying seeds from smaller companies that specialize in heirloom seeds for their quality and unique varieties,” Debbie explained. As for her own seed source preferences, she said, “I like buying my seeds at Renee’s Garden, Seeds from Italy, Botanical Interests, the Hudson Valley Seed Library, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. I also recommend Johnny’s Selected Seeds and Seed Savers Exchange, which is a 35-year-old non profit organization working to preserve heirloom seeds.”

You don’t have to miss out on Debbie’s demonstration. Seeding Chicago recorded it for you. Watch Parts 1 and 2 here: