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Evolving stories About Growing Food in a Big City

Filtering by Tag: agriculture

Food+Justice=Democracy meets in Minneapolis Sept. 24-26

Cassandra West

Word cloud made with WordItOut

We're at the Food+Justice=Democracy conference sponsored by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy in Minneapolis this week. Today started with an elder blessing by poet/activist/organizer Louis Alemayehu reading a beautiful poem reminding us that "The Holy Land is all the Earth." The first panel of the day, "African American Ways of Knowing land" is going on now with presentations by Professor Rose Brewer of the University of Minnesota and Malik Yakini, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy Community Fellow. We'll be back with more posts later...

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.

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.”

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:

One Seed Chicago: Eggplant, radish or swiss chard?

Cassandra West

One Seed ChicagoThinking about what to plant when the growing season finally returns to Chicago? After a long, cold, snowy winter like the one we’ve had here, many local gardeners are dreaming about seeds and soil and sun — and the crops to come. We are.

In the meantime, we can make real those dreams by choosing a seed that will connect thousands of Chicago gardeners — and at the same time encourage urban farming and healthy eating habits. For the fourth year, the One Seed Chicago project offers Chicago gardeners the chance to vote on their favorite vegetable seed then receive a free packet of the seed that gets the most votes.

“One Seed Chicago is uniting Chicago gardeners,” says Ben Helphand, executive director of NeighborSpace, the nonprofit urban land trust that started One Seed Chicago. “By planting a common seed, backyards, windowsills, community gardens and balconies across the City will be linked together in a season-long celebration of urban gardening and local eating.”

In partnership with GreenNet, Chicago's community greening coalition, One Seed Chicago selected the three vegetable seeds Chicagoans can choose among. Chicago celebrity chefs will provide recipe ideas for each of the three vegetables and voters are encouraged to share their own.

This year’s seed choices are eggplant, radish and swiss chard.

Voting continues until April 1, 2011. The winning seed will be unveiled at GreenNet’s annual Green and Growing Fair, April 30 from 10 a.m to 2 p.m. at the Garfield Park Conservatory. To vote, log onto the OneSeedChicago website.

While you're trying to decide, check out this amusing video:

Midterm elections could change federal agriculture policy

Cassandra West

Iowa farm By Susan Richardson Last week’s midterm elections swept dozens of conservative Republicans into the U.S. House of Representatives, giving the GOP a majority. So, what will be the effect of the election results on the Farm Bill, sustainable food initiatives and other agricultural issues? Following is a roundup of views and news from bloggers and ag experts about the potential impact:

"Passing a farm bill is going to be hard work. Since American farmers would otherwise have to compete against heavily subsidized counterparts in other nations, this has always been a necessary bipartisan effort. This has occurred on track in recent years despite the caterwauling on talk radio and on editorial pages. We’ll have to wait and see.” Texas Agriculture Talks

“U.S. lawmakers will face increasing pressure to constrain spending on farm subsidy programs, possibly as part of government-wide austerity, in the wake of large Republican gains in the mid-term elections.” DTN/The Progressive Farmer

“Forty-six seats that flipped from Democratic to Republican hands represent districts that rank in the top half of those that get federal subsidies, according to an analysis by the Environmental Working Group. Those losses could have implications for the next farm bill. Mark Maslyn of the American Farm Bureau Federation worries that the Democrats who will join the House committee to fill empty seats may come from more urban and suburban districts and will be more interested in nutrition and environmental issues than farm programs. He’s also concerned that many of the fiscally conservative Republicans in the House could join up with more liberal Democrats to push for cuts in farm subsidies.” Des Moines Register/Greenfields blog

“Even before the outcome of the mid-term elections became clear, progressive reform of federal agriculture policy already faced steep hurdles -- most of them erected by the lobbying power of Big Ag interests. Now those hurdles are higher.” Grist

Advocates for Urban Agriculture send a letter to Vilsack

Cassandra West

Seneca Kern (right) of We Farm America

Chicago’s Advocates for Urban Agriculture sent a letter this week to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in support of the USDA’s “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” initiative.

The initiative is designed to create new economic opportunities by better connecting consumers with local producers, but some Republican senators have criticized it, saying it would hurt American families and rural farmers.

Quite the contrary, said AUA, in its letter to Vilsack. AUA members believe “that underserved and disinvested urban and rural communities can only benefit from support for local food production and sales. The Know your Food, Know your Farmers program increases the security of our food system by lowering the dependency of large single point of failure systems. We need to encourage different sizes of agricultural systems. Just as the rule of law is not well enforced with large centralized systems, food security is not well protected with only large centralized companies. Small and distributed must also be part of the mix.”

AUA is a coalition of organizations and individuals who practice and advocate for urban agriculture in the Chicago area. They’ve been building their network since 2002, and have seen the interest in urban agriculture expand greatly since then. AUA’s 300 members organize and manage sites and programs that affect thousands of Chicago residents by providing healthy food, education and training, and jobs, and by improving neighborhoods’ environment and quality of life.

AUA members also have prepared a plan for urban agriculture in Chicago, parts of which have been adopted by the city in its “Eat Local, Live Healthy” plan. They are currently advising Chicago’s process to create new urban agriculture zoning definitions and protocols. They also work closely with the Chicago Food Policy Advisory Council to guarantee access to “culturally appropriate, nutritionally sound and affordable food that is grown using environmentally sustainable practices.”

Urban agriculture, AUA says, “will not meet the needs of all residents,” which is why it promotes the connection between urban communities and small rural farms in Illinois. State residents spend $48 billion on food annually, with more than 95 percent coming from outside the state, according to the Illinois Food, Farms and Jobs Act.

“AUA envisions a flourishing food system that promotes urban agriculture in the Chicago area as an integral part of community economic development, food security, environmental sustainability, and overall quality of life for the region, and in which practitioners, organizations, and residents can reap the benefits,” the letter said.

The group extended an invitation to Vilsack to visit Chicago to tour some of the “vibrant urban farms and food production systems in the city.” It also urged the USDA to “continue to develop Know Your Farmer Know Your Food as a way to connect consumers with farmers in a way that will benefit both rural and urban farmers.”

Members of AUA who signed the letter are: Representatives of the Steering Committee of AUA

Ryan Anderson, Delta Institute Patsy Benveniste, Chicago Botanic Garden Chad Bliss, Cob Connections Martha Boyd, Angelic Organics Learning Center Carlos De Jesus, Puerto Rican Cultural Center Mark Earnest, WCPT Breanne Heath, Growing Home Ben Helphand, NeighborSpace Seneca Kern, We Farm America Kelly Larsen, Windy City Harvest Harry Rhodes, Growing Home Chuck Templeton Orrin Williams, Center for Urban Transformation

Sherrod case highlights struggles of black farmers

Cassandra West


By Susan Richardson

For black farmers who were part of the landmark discrimination settlement against the USDA in 1999, Shirley Sherrod’s story is a reminder that the federal agency has a long way to go to end a legacy of racial discrimination.  The farmers sued because the agency frequently denied loans and other financial support to black farmers.

Sherrod, a USDA official in Georgia, was fired and then asked to return to the USDA after it was revealed that her videotaped comments, in which she appeared to make racist statements, were taken out of context.  Many African American farmers hope the wrong done to Sherrod will draw attention to the fact that the Senate has refused to authorize $1.15 billion for thousands of black farmers left out of the original $2.3 billion settlement with the USDA.  The same week that Sherrod was thrown under the bus by an agency with a deplorable civil rights track record,  Senators fought along partisan lines about how to fund the last of the settlement payments.

Last week, the two black farm groups – the National Black Farmers Association and the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association – issued statements in support of Sherrod, linking her situation to the agency's outstanding discrimination claims.  

“Besides the U.S. Congress calling for the immediate reinstatement of Ms. Sherrod, it must set the example of leadership on justice and fairness by allowing the [discrimination case] and all outstanding civil rights claims at the USDA to be settled once and for all,” said Gary Grant, president of the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association.

John Boyd, president of the National Black Farmers Association, made similar remarks.  Some 16,000 farmers, including Boyd, received a share of  the first settlement, according to National Public Radio. Each farmer received $50,000 and debt forgiveness.  

Though Congress agreed to fund additional payments two years ago, including  to those who missed court filing deadlines  or were omitted from the 1999 settlement,  it never authorized the money.  The House recently approved $1.15 billion for the farmers and then sent the legislation to the Senate.  

The history of discrimination against black farmers is well documented.  Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has said he is committed to changing the agency’s “sordid” legacy.  In 1983, the Reagan administration shut down the USDA Office of Civil Rights; it did not reopen until 1996.  A study by USDA researchers in the 1990s found that black farmers received fewer dollars than whites for crop payments, disaster payments and loans.  And black farmers in the class-action suit said that some rural USDA loan officers tore up their applications in their presence. 

While all small-scale American farms are struggling for multiple reasons, black farmers have remained hardest hit, partly due to the history of segregation.  Discrimination by the USDA compounds laws and practices across the nation, and in the South, in particular, that were designed to drive blacks from their land.  According to research cited by the Institute for Southern Studies, black farm ownership declined dramatically in the last century, as the farmers were pushed off land by discriminatory policies and practices.  “In 1920, one out of seven U.S. farms were black run; by 1992, African Americans operated one out of 100 farms,” according to the institute.  

Last year Sherrod and her husband were among the farmers in a cooperative that received $13 million in the 1999 settlement.  Currently, the USDA has thousands of discrimination claims against it, including those filed by women, Native Americans and Latinos.  

As Sherrod noted, many farmers, regardless of color, need support. If anything can be gained from the wreckage of the past week, it should be fairness for black farmers and a renewed commitment to all farmers.

Learn more about black farmers' concerns: and

Watch a CNN interview with John Boyd of the National Black Farmers Association:

Root-Riot Madison Ave. Ribbon Cutting brings out Oak Park gardeners

Cassandra West

Root-Riot Urban Garden Network held a dedication and ribbon cutting on a beautiful, sunny July 10 Saturday morning. Many gardeners and supporters came out to see what has sprung up on the Madison Avenue lot. About 50 raised beds are now going strong, filled with many varieties of vegetables and flowers. There's also a lovely bird sanctuary, a composting bin and new tumbler.Here are some clips from the dedication:

This is what fresh looks like

Cassandra West

Freshly harvested red potatoes.

Those of us who are first-time urban farmers are always amazed at what we get from the soil. We go into this food-growing venture hopeful, expectant and not quite knowing what our efforts — and the Earth — will yield. So anything we harvest is a pleasure and a reward. I picked my first pepper recently and then the smallest onion I've ever seen. They were both beautiful to hold and behold. And I knew why. They both came from my garden.

This, I suspect, is how it will go throughout the growing season as I pull more food from my raised bed in Oak Park's new community garden, audaciously named Root Riot.

But what really made me appreciate the wonders of growing my own food was seeing Madiem Kawa dig a handful of red potatoes from her South Side garden. Kawa is also president of the Washington Park Conservancy, a non-profit organization dedicated to revitalizing greenspace in Washington Park (on Chicago's South Side) by preserving wildlife habitat and promoting beautification, environmental education, and cultural programs for the public.

Those potatoes, I just have to say, were sublime. Talk about looking good enough to eat. As I stood there gazing at them in Madiem's outstretched hand, I wanted to rinse them off, brush them with a little olive oil, wrap them in foil and roast them over a charcoal fire — and enjoy all the freshness of summer and what we can produce with a combination of hope, good soil and faith in our own ability as urban farmers.

USDA seeks public comments on new food guidelines

Cassandra West

By Susan Richardson The U.S. Department of Agriculture is taking public comments through July 15 on the proposed 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the basis for important policy decisions about the Food Pyramid, school meals, the WIC Program, and other nutrition programs managed by the USDA.  Written by 13 prominent independent experts in nutrition and health, the proposed guidelines outline four major steps for Americans to improve their diet and health. At the top of the list is reducing caloric intake and increasing physical activity to combat obesity, which the expert advisory committee calls the "single greatest threat to public health in this century."

Other proposed actions steps are:

  • Eat more vegetables, cooked dry beans and peas, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. In addition, eat more seafood and fat-free and low-fat milk and milk products, and moderate amounts of lean meats, poultry, and eggs.
  • Cut out most added sugars and solid fats. Foods with added sugars and solid fats have unneeded calories and few, if any, nutrients. Also, reduce sodium and eat fewer refined grains, especially desserts.
  • Meet the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. These guidelines require people to move more, which is important for overall health and helps burn calories to keep weight in check.
  • U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will submit final guidelines based on public input. To submit or review comments on the proposed guidelines, visit 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

    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.

    USDA Report: Local Food Markets Growing, Effects on Health Still Unclear

    Cassandra West

    By Susan Richardson Farmers markets and other  direct sales of produce to consumers account for a small, but growing, share of U.S. agricultural production, according to a new report by the Economic Research Service, a program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  "For smaller farms, direct marketing to consumers accounts for a higher percentage of their sales than for larger farms," according to the report.    But researchers are still unclear what impact the healthier food options are having on improved nutrition in communities.  The report, titled Local Food Systems: Concepts, Impacts, and Issues," also finds that there is insufficient research to determine the effect of locally grown food on energy consumption or greenhouse gas emissions.  

    Key findings of the report include

    • Federal, state, and local government programs increasingly support local food systems.
    • Production of locally marketed food is more likely to occur on small farms located in or near metropolitan counties. 
    • The number of farmers’ markets rose to 5,274 in 2009, up from 2,756 in 1998 and 1,755 in 1994, according to USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service.
    • There are  few studies on the impact of local food markets on economic development, health, or environmental quality. But research suggests that expanding local food systems can increase employment and income in communities.

    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.

    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.

    Local food production could yield big economic benefits

    Cassandra West

    Food grown locally could boost region's economyIf Midwestern farmers raised the fruit and vegetables eaten in the Heartland, they could create thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in income, according to a study reported recently by the Associated Press.

    The Iowa State University study looked at what would happen if farmers in six states — Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin — raised 28 crops in quantities large enough to meet local demand. The study found that if an ample supply of produce could be grown regionally, it would spur $882 million in sales, more than 9,300 jobs and about $395 million in labor income.

    Growing enough food to meet regional demand also wouldn't take much land, said said Michelle Miller, associate director of the University of Wisconsin's Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems, which helped fund the study. "That's one of the wild things about it — you can grow a lot on a few number of acres. Anyone who has a garden knows this."

    How few acres? One of Iowa's 99 counties could meet the demand for all six states, said Rich Pirog, associate director for the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State. The center requested the study after seeing increased demand for food grown closer to home, especially from public schools and colleges.

    The study included apricots, asparagus, mustard greens, bell peppers, onions, broccoli, peaches, cabbage, pears, cantaloupe, plums, carrots, raspberries, cauliflower, snap beans, collard greens, spinach, cucumbers, squash, eggplant, strawberries, garlic, sweet potatoes, kale, tomatoes, watermelon and lettuce — both leaf and head.

    Crops such as pumpkins, apples and cherries weren't included in the study because the Midwest already grows enough of them to meet local and regional demand. Corn and soybeans are considered grains, not produce.

    Financing Local Food: 'Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is'

    Cassandra West

    By Susan Richardson From support for supermarkets in neighborhoods with more liquor stores than healthy food choices to efforts to increase the number of USDA certified organic poultry processors, philanthropic organizations are increasingly taking part in a growing movement for sustainable agriculture and access to healthy food. 

     “This is a time of convergence,” said Karen Lehman, director of Fresh Taste, a Chicago-based collaborative supported by area foundations that encourages diverse local agriculture and healthy eating in Illinois. 

    Last week, Lehman moderated a panel on food finance at the PRI Makers  National Conference in Chicago, a group of foundations and other funders that provide low-interest loans and other creative financing for charitable purposes.

    Though food finance is still an unknown for most foundations, the panel discussion, titled “Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is: Local Food Finance,” underscored the rising profile of food issues in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors.  Panelists shared experiences in financing local food initiatives, discussed the importance of building the capacity of organizations to execute food-related projects and emphasized the need to grow efforts in communities of color, where food financing can potentially have a great impact on public health and economic development.

    News coverage about food recalls, First Lady Michelle Obama’s campaign to combat childhood obesity, and the spread of community gardens as a tool for both revitalizing neighborhoods and building community have all increased public awareness about what Americans eat, where it comes from, and how it is produced.  At the PRI session, almost everyone raised their hand when asked if they had seen the documentary Food, Inc., which skewers the food manufacturing industry. 

    But today’s tipping point in terms of food awareness is the result of years of labor by grass-root organizations to bring public health, environmental, social justice, and economic development concerns together around the food delivery system. “These issues are in the spotlight as never before,” according to the Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Funders, which is holding its annual conference in Philadelphia June 15-18.  “Efforts over the past decades helped sow the ground from which today’s opportunities have grown. But what next?”

     Under the theme of “Shaking it Up, Making It Last: A Real Food System for All,” the conference will explore issues including cross-disciplinary efforts to build community health through urban agriculture; the challenges of making healthy food accessible to everyone; financing local food initiatives, and changing the certification system for domestic agriculture.  In addition, participants will tour various project sites in and around Philadelphia, including food-producing farms and a community garden built on abandoned inner-city lots.  

    A keynote speaker will be Jeremy Nowak, founder and CEO of The Reinvestment Fund, which was instrumental in financing the first grocer in West Philadelphia in years.  The Fund worked on behalf of Pennsylvania’s Fresh Food Financing Initiative, a model for the Obama administration’s $400 million National Healthy Food Financing Initiative, which could provide support for grocery stores, farmers markets and other efforts to provide healthy food in underserved communities. In February, the First Lady visited a North Philadelphia grocery store supported by the state’s fresh food financing initiative in conjunction with the launch of her campaign against childhood obesity. 

    The focus of the Sustainable Agriculture Funders conference is to tap into the momentum around food issues to create a national food system that better serves public health.

    For more information about the Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Funders, visit

    Action Alert – Protect Your Right to Know Which Foods Contain GMOs

    Cassandra West

    Please send this URGENT message to U.S. Government leaders to protect your right to know which foods are made from genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Click and send an email today to the Secretaries of State (Clinton), Agriculture (Vilsack), and Health and Human Services (Sebelius). Please try to do this before Wednesday, May 5, but don’t stop until they come around. They must stop U.S. negotiators at an international (Codex) conference from May 3-7, from pushing an agenda that could make it difficult for anyone, "anywhere in the world" to label foods as genetically modified (GM) – or even make "non-GMO claims on their product’s label."

    The U.S. is taking the ridiculous and unscientific position that GMOs are not different from conventional foods, claiming labels that say GMO or non-GMO are misleading.

    If they succeed at the meeting, the U.S. may then file lawsuits through the World Trade Organization against any country that implements mandatory labeling of GMOs, or even allows non-GMO claims on packages.

    This Is a Grave Threat to the Non-GMO Tipping Point – We Must Push Back Now!

    The growing evidence and concern about health dangers of GMOs is making waves. A renowned US Medical organization (American Academy of Environmental Medicine) called on doctors to prescribe non-GMO diets for all patients. Consumers are seeking non-GMO brands, and the fastest growing claim among store brands in 2009 was “GMO-Free” (Neilson Survey). The trade journal "Supermarket News" predicts GMO concerns will erupt this year, specifically because consumers are now given choices by the new Non-GMO Shopping Guide website and the Non-GMO Project’s third-party verified standard for making non-GMO claims.

    Most Americans (53%) say they would avoid GMOs if they were labeled. But even 5% would likely be enough to create a tipping point of consumer rejection, forcing all GM ingredients out of our food supply.

    We can see the tipping point just over the horizon, but it is now threatened by the US position at Codex.

    Tell our government leaders that you will not stand for this outrageous obstruction of our democracy and human rights. Demand that the U.S. support the right for countries everywhere to label GMOs. And remind them that 9 out of 10 Americans want mandatory GMO labeling, and that President Obama actually made a campaign pledge to implement it—which are all waiting for.

    Send an email today!

    Bee Balm buzz at Garfield Conservatory's Green and Growing Fair

    Cassandra West

    Bee balm is Chicago seed of the year

    We met Mr. Brown Thumb (shy guy wouldn’t let us take his photo) and many other urban gardeners and gardening enthusiasts at Saturday’s Green & Growing Fair at Garfield Park Conservatory. More evidence, we see, that urban agriculture’s roots are getting deeper.

    You don’t hear the word wholesome much these days, but that’s the best word to describe the vibe at the fair. What’s more wholesome than people coming together to learn and share the goodness of soil, sun and the work of human hands? From kids to grandparents, everyone found something to indulge his or her green and growing interests.

    We saw lots of kids poking their fingers in rich, brown dirt--or as gardeners call it, soil. Several urban farming enterprises--Grand Street Gardens, Growing Home, Inc., Nichols Farm & Orchard-- were on hand selling fresh, locally grown produce. Scattered throughout the conservatory were demonstration stations on composting, beekeeping, tool sharpening and making your own biodegradable plant pots.

    The greenest of green came out, we think, to get a packet of the Seed of the Year, chosen in an annual online contest. The winning flower or vegetable ends up being the focus of a season-long celebration. One Seed Chicago, an urban greening project in partnership with NeighborSpace and GreeNet, sponsors the contest.

    And the winner is…Bee Balm (Monarda fistulosa), a native perennial flower of Illinois that blooms in mid-summer with slender and long-tapering leaves. Bee balm—also called “Oswego Tea,” wild bergamot or horsemint—is the natural source of the antiseptic thymol, the primary active ingredient in many mouthwashes. You can get tips on growing bee balm at

    Three employees of Windy City HarvestIn the fair’s marketplace, we met vendors and exhibitors from around the region, some selling their products or produce, others stocked with informational handouts.

    We chatted with a high-energy and friendly crew from the Botanic Garden’s Windy City Harvest, an organic vegetable and plant production enterprise that provides instruction in sustainable horticulture and urban agriculture. They were selling chard, collards, kale, mixed salad greens and super fresh and fragrant green onions.

    natural cleaning and growing products

    We talked with Beth and Jonas Phillips of Green Generations about their line of natural cleaning and agricultural products for a variety of applications. They told us their products are free of harmful toxins or synthetic compounds and are 100% natural and safe for the environment as well as the people who use them.

    We got a cilantro seedling from Robin Schirmer of Tomato Mountain Organic Farm, which has a CSA that delivers certified organic produce to Chicago, suburban Cook and collar counties. Deliveries start June 1.

    Seneca Kern, co-founder of We Farm America, was digging deep into his knowledge base, giving on-the-spot instructions on setting up back yard vegetable plots. For one interested couple, he sketched a layout on the back of a business card.We Farm America

    Jennifer Borchardt of Harvest Moon Farms, a Wisconsin-based organic heirloom vegetable grower, told us about their Farm to School program, in which they visit schools and give students an introduction to farming. Jennifer and her husband, Bob, are featured in an April 25 Chicago Tribune story on the expanding community supported agriculture movement.

    Of course, there were many more vendors and exhibitors we just didn’t have time to meet. But, be assured, the Chicagoland farming community is green—and growing.

    Oscar-Nominated Documentary Tackles Food Production

    Cassandra West

    By Susan Richardson

    Food, Inc., a documentary that explores America's industrialized food system and its effect on the environment, health, and economy, will be shown tonight, Wednesday, April 21, at 9 p.m. on WTTW 11.   The film, which was nominated for an Oscar, examines major issues surrounding food and food production: factory farming, genetic engineering, pesticides, food-borne illnesses, organic food, nutritional labeling, environmental impact, school lunches, obesity, and farm workers' rights.  The documentary is also available on Netflix.

    Director Robert Kenner follows the processed chicken at American grocery stores back to cramped chicken houses where the birds are puffed up on steroids.  Kenner also highlights  a working-class family as it struggles to eat healthy on a limited budget.  The documentary is informed by the work of healthy food advocates Eric Schlosser, author of  "Fast Food Nation," and Michael Pollan, author of "The Omnivore's Dilemma."