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Evolving stories About Growing Food in a Big City

Filtering by Tag: Green movement

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).

A visit to Camden NJ's green soup kitchen

Cassandra West

CAMDEN, NJ -- On Tuesday, a group attending the Sustainable Agriculture & Food Systems Funders Forum in Philadelphia visited the Cathedral Kitchen in Camden, N.J., which has provided hot, nutritious meals and other services to residents since 1976. In 2008, Cathedral Kitchen broke the emergency food service mold when it opened a 13,000-square-foot facility that also integrates medical and dental services. Camden faces daunting fresh food and poverty challenges.

Seeding Chicago interviewed (video above) the Kitchen's executive director, Karen Talarico, and chef Jonathan Jernigan about Cathedral's unique approach to serving its community.

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.

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.

Tom Tresser, Green Party candidate for Cook County Bd. president, talks urban agriculture

Cassandra West

Seeding Chicago met Tom Tresser, Green Party candidate for Cook County Board president, last Saturday following a live broadcast of “The Mike Nowak Show” (WCPT 820-AM), held at Third Unitarian Church in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood. The special radio broadcast, called “Growing in Austin,” featured urban agriculture activists and community development groups, including CEDA (Community and Economic Development Association of Cook County, Inc.), from all around Chicago discussing ways to bring more green (veggies and cash) to under served city neighborhoods.

Tom Tresser, Green Party candidate for Cook County Board presidentGiven the topic, it was no surprise that a Green Party candidate was there. Tresser, who had turned out to listen to the panelists just as we had, caught our attention with the large green-and-white campaign button pinned to his shirt.

Unaware of Tresser’s campaign or his platform, we wanted to know what are his thoughts on making Chicago more agriculture friendly. “I’m here with members of the community who are talking about one thing, how to take vacant land, of which there are many in Chicago and across the county, and turn them into productive farms for food,” Tresser says.

Tresser, who lives in Lincoln Park, is an educator, organizer and activist. He teaches a course, “Acting Up: Using Theater and Technology for Social Change,” at DePaul University, and was lead organizer of No Games Chicago, which fought the city’s 2016 Olympics bid. He says a major part of his platform will focus on fighting corruption, but he also wants to address grass-roots community issues.

“We have a lot of problems in this county and across America in [access to] affordable food.” Tresser says. “People have no access to healthy of fresh food. We have obesity, rampant unemployment, and I think [urban agriculture] is a magic seed to deal with really quite a few pressing issues.”

The Mike Nowak show

Tresser’s campaign will open an office in Logan Square in the next few weeks, he says. In the meantime, he’s doing the homework to get a deeper understanding of urban agriculture’s possibilities. “I’m knitting together my facts right now,” he says. “I believe that candidates should get out and do the research themselves. I plan to unveil, probably in about a month, a major initiative that talks about turning vacant land inside the County of Cook into farm production using hard-to-employ people and then generating revenue and turning that food back into the community as well as into our institutions such as schools, prisons and hospitals. So it’s a win, win, win idea. That, I think, is quite exciting.”

Listen to podcasts of The Mike Nowak Show here.

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.

Chicago's green movement springs from the seeds of hope

Cassandra West

I grew up a city kid, knowing more about concrete playgrounds than I did about lush, expansive lawns. But I was endlessly fascinated with almost anything that grew from the ground. Flowers, weeds, trees, fruits. One summer I attempted to grow watermelon in a large pot. That experiment, needless to say, didn't work out. Even vegetables were fascinating marvels of the photosynthesis process I wanted to understand. Eating them was a different story, and I frowned a lot when they showed up on my plate. Leafy, green collard, turnip, mustard and spinach greens were staples in my mom’s cooking, and we always had them. They were earthly mysteries, grown--to my knowledge--by only one neighbor we knew. The vegetables my mom bought at the little neighborhood grocery store obviously were imported from away.

Ask me today about greens, and I still marvel at how they burst through thick soil and spread their giant leaves in verdant bunches. Today, I actually know from where greens come. More of the greens we eat are grown locally. Neighbors and friends are growing vegetables in their back yards or in community gardens. Or, we’re getting our greens at farmers’ markets, freshly picked with puffs of dirt still clinging to their roots.

We’re returning to the land again. People around Chicago and many other urban areas are rediscovering—or discovering for the first time—the power of growing their own food. Of taking control of their diets and food distribution. This is huge. And it needs to bigger. Not bigger in a way that big corporations control and monopolize markets. I mean bigger in a way that more local individuals and cooperatives can meet the food and economic needs of their communities.

The movement is taking hold. People committed to developing new systems of sustainability are spreading it. People who want to bring a fresh, home-grown vitality to communities long overdue for real and serious economic development and empowerment. Seeding Chicago will be your guide to this "new" urban renewal that’s taking place. This is one renaissance you don’t want to miss.

--Cassandra West, co-editor, Seeding Chicago