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Evolving stories About Growing Food in a Big City

Filtering by Tag: community garden

How community building happens without really trying

Cassandra West

Julie just found another herb marker.

It’s spring. It’s winter. They're both happening at once. Yes, we had multiple seasons in a few hours this morning, but that didn’t stop a hardy group from coming out to get started prepping Karen’s Garden for the growing season.

There were some emails late Friday on whether we should cancel because of the forecast. We decided to see who would show up.

Jeanette and David were there by 9 a.m. Then Julie and Bruce. Marsha. Jennifer. Donn. Then Allen and Corey from Berwyn. New Oak Parker Jewel, who didn’t get our emails, even came out. By 11 a.m., we had 13 people braving sudden microclimates that brought repeating waves of blowing snow, blustery winds and glorious sunshine. Around noon, everyone agreed they’d had enough.

By then, though, we’d made a lot of progress. Weeds had been pulled up. Trees pruned. Flagstones pried out of the soil to identify beds for later planting. Woody stems cut down. Garden statutes and decorative markers unburied. An herb garden uncovered and cleared.

Most of all new connections were forged. Several people realized they had been working alongside a neighbor who lived only a few blocks away. Or that their wives knew each other. Or that they had crossed paths before. The biggest realization: We all had something in common— we wanted to be there on this morning. And while we were building a community garden, we were strengthening our community.

It was a lovely morning.

Karen's Garden is a community garden organized by the Oak Park Area Edible Gardening Cooperative that's being developed on private property in Oak Park. If you live in Oak Park and want to become part of Karen’s Garden, send an email to

—Cassandra West

Garfield Park Conservatory teaches greener living

Cassandra West

The Garfield Park Conservatory on Chicago’s West Side is offering another series of workshops for those interested in greener living. We encourage you to check them out. Here’s what coming up next on the Conservatory's “Growing & Green Living” schedule: How to Harvest, Use & Brew Compost Wednesday, Aug. 17, 6-7:30 pm $5 suggested donation

Garfield Park ConservatoryThis session will offer up tips on harvesting both yard waste compost and worm compost, how to use it, and how to modify it to meet specific needs of your space. We will also demonstrate how to make compost tea, as well as different types of materials to make homemade compost sieves. Pre-register online. Kitchen Sink Composting: Indoor Worm Bins for Your Kitchen Saturday, Aug. 20, 10 am – Noon $30 per bin (up to 2 participants) Looking for great compost you can make in your own kitchen? Come to this workshop, learn about worm composting, and leave with your very own kitchen composting bin, complete with worms. Pre-register online. Demonstration: Brewing a Batch of Compost Tea Saturday, Aug. 20, 1-3 pm FREE Drop-in anytime during the designated hours to view a demonstration and chat with Master Composters about how to brew and use compost tea. No pre-registration required. Beginning Beekeeping ONLY A FEW SPACES LEFT – REGISTER TODAY! Saturday, Sept. 3, 9 am – 2 pm $70 (or $50 for GPCA members & approved volunteers) Spend the day with us learning the basics of beekeeping equipment, hive design and construction, bee biology and behavior, bee management and bee products. Pre-registration and payment is required. Register online. Harvesting & Storing Seeds Saturday, Sept. 10, 10 am – Noon $5 suggested donation Seed saving is great for anyone interested in increasing the productivity of their garden. In this workshop we will discover the basics of seed saving for annual, biennial and perennial plants. We will go over hands-on techniques for wet and dry seed harvest, threshing, winnowing and storage. Pre-register online.

FAQs on proposed urban ag ordinance in Chicago

Cassandra West

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration is moving along with plans to define urban agriculture in Chicago as it tries to get an ordinance passed by the City Council. In late July, the Mayor’s Office released an FAQ on urban agriculture and a document on urban farms (commercial) and community gardens (non-commercial).

One difference between an urban farm and a community garden will be size, according to the proposed ordinance. An urban farm would have no size limit, while a community garden would be limited to 25,000 square feet.

Here’s more on how Chicago would distinguish urban farms and gardens:

Urban Farms (Commercial) • Fully recognizes and allows urban farms and methods of food production indoors, outdoors, and on rooftops. Also allows sales. • Allows aquaponics (growing fish and plants together) and hydroponics. • There is no specific size limit on urban farms. • Rules around landscaping and fencing requirements in and around certain parking areas and outdoor work or storage areas are relaxed. May be required depending on location and the specific activity taking place. When required, type of fencing will be approved on case-by-case basis by DHED. • Urban farmers will have the option to work with the City in order to design screening surrounding outdoor areas and develop ways to meet parkway requirements. • Composting is allowed but limited only to the materials generated on site, and must be used on site. • Allows keeping of up to 5 beehives. Community Gardens (Non-commercial) • Legalizes sales of plants and produce grown on site so long as sales are secondary to the primary gardening activity or surplus produce. • Expands the size limit on all community gardens to 25,000 square feet. There is no size limit for community gardens in parks and open space districts. • Allows and clarifies rules about greenhouses, sheds, hoophouses, and farmstands as accessory uses of community gardens. The size limit on these is expanded to 575 square feet. • Composting is allowed but limited only to the materials generated on site, and must be used on site. • Allows keeping of up to 5 beehives.

Root Riot community gardeners' work day in Oak Park

Cassandra West

If you have a garden, you've got to work it. Every gardener knows that or will soon learn it. Root Riot, a community garden in Oak Park with approximately 50 beds, held a workday on July 16 to pull up weeds and put down wood chips. The garden even inaugurated its newly built table and benches, made of wood from an old Wisconsin barn. (Thanks, Stephanie's brother!)And, luckily for all, we finished the work done before the heatwave of 2011 arrived in full force. Check out this clip of our morning in the garden:

Woodlawn garden wins Chicago landscape award

Cassandra West

Chicago community garden in Woodlawn 2009 By Susan Richardson

The 65th Street and Woodlawn Community Garden recently won first prize in Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley’s Landscape Awards in the vegetable garden category, competing against 13 other gardens. The Cook County Sheriff's Office, which runs a vegetable garden at the County Jail, and the Fulton Street Flower and Vegetable Garden took second and third prizes, respectively.

The citywide competition is in its 54th year; there were 177 entries across multiple categories in this year's contest.

"[The annual awards program] is the city’s way of acknowledging the individuals, businesses, community groups, schools and other public institutions who contribute their time and energy to make our city the greenest in the nation,” Mayor Daley said in a news release.

The awards include eight categories: commercial landscapes, container gardens, living green roofs and walls, multi-unit residential high rises, native landscapes, public institutions, specialized gardens and vegetable gardens. Awards are also given based on sections of the city in four categories -- community landscapes, multiunit residential, schools and single-family residential.

Judges visited gardens and ranked them based on criteria including how well they were planned and maintained, use of best environmental practices such as recycling, composting and harvesting rainwater, creativity and community engagement.

The Woodlawn garden, which has about 116 raised beds, began eight years ago on land owned by First Presbyterian Church. Some of the vegetables grown in the garden are donated to the church’s food program.

The awards will be presented at an invitation-only ceremony on November 6.

For more information on the awards, visit Greencorps Chicago, Department of the Environment.

(Seeding Chicago's Susan Richardson participates in the 65th and Woodlawn Community Garden.)

USDA will expand support for school food gardens

Cassandra West

By Susan Richardson Just in time for the beginning of the school year, US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced a $1 million pilot program to develop and manage community gardens at high-poverty schools in five states. Funded through the National School Lunch Act, the program targets schools where 50 percent or more of students are eligible for free and reduced-priced meals.

Public and not-for-profit organizations are encouraged to apply for grant funding for the pilot program. The deadline for applications is November 8, 2010.

The goal is to teach youth about agriculture production, diet and nutrition. Vilsack said the program will help kids and their families make healthier choices and encourage schools to prepare healthier meals by using the produce grown by students.

"Grass roots community gardens and agriculture programs have great promise for teaching our kids about food production and nutrition at the local level," Vilsack said. "Learning where food comes from and what fresh foods taste like, and the pride of growing and serving vegetables and fruits that grew through your own effort, are life-changing experiences."

The pilot comes as Congress considers improvements to the Child Nutrition Act, which includes school-based food and nutrition programs that feed 32 million children a day. Designed as anti-hunger initiatives, school breakfast and lunch programs have been criticized in recent years because the meals are heavy on processed foods, which have limited nutritional value and contribute to the nation's soaring childhood obesity rates.

Some school districts, including the Chicago Public Schools, have attempted to provide healthier school fare through partnerships with local organic food growers. But school officials say it is too expensive to take such programs districtwide.

Grant applications for the USDA school garden pilot program may be submitted by email to: or through The Request for Applications is available on-line at

Krafting a campaign to support food gardens

Cassandra West

COMMENTARY By Susan Richardson

A recent story about Chicago-area Kraft Foods is simply too delicious to ignore. The world's second- largest food company - and maker of the nutritious Cheez Whiz (“Cheezy and Darn Proud of It!”) – is encouraging the consumers of its Triscuit wheat crackers to grow their own food. Some of you may have already used the seed packets inserted in 4 million Triscuit boxes beginning in March.

It appears that the food giant is cleverly trying to rebrand itself to court the rising home-grown food movement. In an attempt to reach its core audience -- the same 35 -year old- women who are down with First Mom Michelle Obama in her efforts to reduce childhood obesity and restore nutrition to American diets -- Triscuit’s brand managers took a calculated leap, according to a story in OMMA: the Online Magazine of Media, Marketing and Advertising.  They decided to link the cracker’s simple, wholesome ingredients with the growing interest in food gardening. Kraft says Triscuit’s ingredients are wheat, salt and oil.  The article describes the decision as an “intuitive connection.”

So far, the marketing campaign – or “movement,” as Triscuit handlers call it – is working. The food giant, whose motto is “make today delicious,” teamed up with the nonprofit Urban Growing to launch community vegetable farms in 20 cities, OMMA reported. The company also created a garden at its office in Northfield, a Chicago suburb. Volunteers get to keep what they grow. Kraft launched a special web site that includes gardening tips. The site has had 260,000 unique visitors since the initiative was launched in March.  And Kraft snagged TV talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, who has her own Triscuit-sponsored veggie garden.

Earlier this year, Kraft announced that it was imposing voluntary sodium limits in some of its food to help reduce galloping high-blood pressure rates among Americans. One foodie quoted in the OMMA article said Kraft’s investment in food gardens is a good thing, but most panned the move as disingenuous. We should recognize efforts by food companies to tweak unhealthy food manufacturing and processing. Like reducing sodium levels. But as a friend noted, are wheat, salt and oil really the only ingredients in Triscuits?

I mean Gee Whiz. Or should I say Cheez Whiz?

Weigh in on the Triscuit campaign. Comment below.

South Side gardens showcase Chicago's green thumbs

Cassandra West


City and suburban residents and foreign tourists piled into a yellow school bus Sat., July 31 for a tour of Chicago South Side’s urban farms and gardens. NeighorSpace presented the free tour in conjunction with the Chicago Park District. About 30 people got an up-close look at some of Chicago’s oldest and newest community gardens.

Departing from the Chicago Tourism Center Gallery at 72 E. Randolph, the tour’s first stop was the Rainbow Beach Victory Garden at 79th and South Lake Shore Drive. The lush garden sits on Park District land that once was the site of a 1940s victory garden. It’s just steps from Lake Michigan and nearby Rainbow Beach. In a neighborhood with few open green spaces, it’s a real oasis, populated with colorful summer flowers, native prairie plants and gardeners’ favorite vegetables —tomatoes, corn, okra, and many varieties of squash. About 40 community residents have plots in the garden.

The second stop was Growing Power’s Jackson Park Urban Farm and Community Allotment Garden, which is a real working farm that grows produce for local markets and restaurants. The farm employs 15 Chicago youth who are paid to help with composting, mulching, trellising and harvesting, Jonathan Berti, program coordinator said. Growing Power is the Milwaukee-based organization that’s recognized as a national leader in the urban agriculture and local foods movement.

Members of the Woodlawn community garden

Next on the tour was The Woodlawn Community Garden at 65th and Woodlawn. It occupies land owned by the nearby First Presbyterian Church. It has grown from under 39 community plots in 2009 to 116 this year, says garden coordinator Benjamin Murphy.

The final tour stop was the Brickyard Garden, set in between two three-story multifamily buildings on the 6100 block of South Woodlawn. The garden, started in 1975, is a dense, verdant patch that showcases what can come from urban gardener’s imaginations. A wooden open arbor is covered with green grape vines and offers a shady spot of gardeners and visitors. About 30 people took the sold-out tour, which was put on in association with an exhibit at the Chicago Cultural Center on urban gardening: City is a Community Garden. The exhibition looks at urban gardens, vertical farming in the city, and urban chicken keepers through photographs, architectural drawings, and installations. The exhibit continues through Sept. 19, the Chicago Cultural Center, 72 E. Randolph.

Food gardens help revitalize Chicago's Englewood

Cassandra West

  Morgan Way of Peace Community Garden

By Susan Richardson

Within earshot of the Green Line on a residential street in Englewood, Dip Ross sells chips and soft drinks and locally grown produce at his food stand. Bell peppers, onions, corn and squash are sold along with beef nachos and snow cones.  The produce comes from Rowan Trees Farm, a block from the food stand.

The food stand and the farm were among 10 stops on a driving tour of community gardens and related sites organized by the Greater Englewood Garden Association on Saturday, July 17.  The tour was the first for the association, which seeks to highlight the many gardens where food and flowers are flourishing in the heat of the summer, and human ingenuity and creativity are slowly revitalizing a once formidable commercial area.  Association members hope the gardens sprouting up on vacant lots will help restore Englewood one lot, and one garden, at a time.

Englewood is a food desert and also has among the highest number of vacant lots in Chicago.  Supporters say gardens hold the promise of beautifying the area, increasing public safety, providing healthy food and putting empty lots back into productive use. For longtime residents such as Cordia Pugh, whose backyard garden was on the tour, the momentum around gardening can be channeled for lasting change. “We need to knit together this energy and put an end to the food desert,” she said.

Jenice Sanders, director of Educational Institute, a social service organization in Englewood, is working with area youth and seniors to complete a garden on West 59th Street that will be a “safe haven” for seniors.  This intergenerational effort can help heal the divisions between young and old, she said, adding that it is important to “rebuild the trust seniors have lost with youth.” 

The senior haven garden also has another function, Sanders said: It will provide a place where seniors raising their grandchildren can bring them to play. The garden will have a sand lot for children and tables where grandparents can play chess and checkers, she said.

Sanders is investing her own money in the effort, with technical support from Openlands, an independent, non-profit organization dedicated to protecting the natural and open spaces of northeastern Illinois and the surrounding region. The non-profit is working closely with the Greater Englewood Garden Association and other groups in the community to create a comprehensive plan for the use of open space.  Julie Samuels of Openlands helped coordinate Saturday's tour.

City of Chicago planning officials are discussing whether to designate Englewood as an urban agriculture corridor, which could, over time, result in a flurry of green-related development, including a new crop of neighborhood entrepreneurs.   The recent opening of the Heritage Station Community Garden is considered a prime example of the potential of gardens to address multiple issues in the community, while telling the story of Englewood’s illustrious past.  The station, at 549 W. 63th Street, is next to an affordable housing complex and near Kennedy-King Community College and the site of a railroad stop for African Americans who came to the city during the Great Migration.

Surveying the neighborhood she has called home off and on since 1959, Pugh said Englewood began to decline with urban renewal plans in the ‘60s.  The city razed blocks under the auspices of rebuilding, but that never happened. “This community has been scorched by a lack of engagement,” she said. “How are [residents] supposed to feel good about that?”

The current foreclosure crisis has added salt to the neighborhood’s wounds. On her block alone, there have been five foreclosures this year, she said, pointing to the vacant houses on her well-manicured street.  Gardens are a means to put empty lots to good use, she said.

Among the stops on Saturday’s tour was a community garden built in the foundation of an abandoned building in the 5900 block of South Winchester.  This is the first year for the garden, said Jenna Austin, block club president, pointing to the collard greens and other vegetables growing in the space. Residents, including neighborhood youth, helped to create the garden in an effort to beautify a block littered with several empty lots.

Not far from Austin’s neighborhood, Jean Carter-Hill, executive director of Imagine Englewood if, helped create a flower garden behind Nicholson Elementary Math and Science School at 6006 South Peoria. Brightly colored flowers shimmered in the sunlight in the tranquil space behind the school, and benches and tables are arranged under an arbor. 

The garden is the site of a high school that was demolished years ago. Carter-Hill and others approached Mayor Richard Daley about taking over the space, which is on land owned by Chicago Public Schools.  Her goal is to integrate the garden into Nicholson’s curriculum.

For now, she is focusing on educating area youth about the value of the garden. Like other gardens in Englewood, some youth have pulled up flowers and plants and taken or destroyed gardening tools. With time and education, she said, such problems become less frequent.

Joining the tour was State Rep. Esther Golar, 6th District, who became involved in gardening in response to a vacant lot on her street that was “an eyesore."  Her district does not include Englewood, but after training with Openlands, she became a supporter of gardens as a tool to revitalize communities that have suffered from disinvestment. She is eager to work with other elected officials and residents to change the face of Englewood and other communities. “We need to beautify this area,” Golar said.

The Greater Englewood Garden Association meets monthly. Contact Julie Samuels at, or call her at 312-863-6256.

Watch a slide show of the tour: Greater-Englewood-Community-Garden-Tour

More informaton about Heritage Station: Heritage Station Community Garden opens in Englewood

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:

Chicago food activists stand with Haitian farmers in rejecting Monsanto seeds

Cassandra West

Since the catastrophic Jan. 12 earthquake, many Haitians came to see agriculture as the most practical and long-term solution to healing the land and the economy. Then in stepped big agribusiness, as always, with its own solution, designed more to help its bottom line than the Haitian population. 65th and Woodlawn Community Garden

Monsanto, the St. Louis-based agri-chemical company, announced recently that it would donate 60,000 sacks, or 475 tons, of hybrid corn and vegetable (cabbage, carrot, eggplant, melon, onion, tomato, spinach and watermelon) seeds, some of them treated with highly toxic pesticides, according to reports.

Haitian farmers called the donation “a new earthquake” with the potential to rock their island nation as much as the one that destroyed so many lives and structures earlier this year.

Bev Bell of Daily Kos reported: In an e-mailed letter sent May 14, Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, executive director of the Peasant Movement of Papay and the spokesperson for the National Peasant Movement of the Congress of Papay, called the entry of Monsanto seeds into Haiti "a very strong attack on small agriculture, on farmers, on biodiversity, on Creole seeds, and on what is left our environment in Haiti." Haitian activists have vigorously opposed agribusiness imports of seeds and food, which undermines local production with local seed stocks, and expressed special concern about the import of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Haiti’s Ministry of Agriculture rejected Monsanto’s offer of Roundup (its popular and bestselling herbicide) Ready GMO seeds. A Monsanto representative, in an e-mail, assured the MoA that the donated seeds are not GMO.

The Director of Seeds at the Haitian Ministry of Agriculture says the seeds are treated with the fungicide Maxim XO, and the calypso tomato seeds are treated with thiram, which belongs to a highly toxic class of chemicals called ethylene bisdithiocarbamates. The EPA has determined that EBDC-treated plants are so dangerous to agricultural workers that they must wear special protective clothing when handling them.

Haitian farmers, who are trying to hold on to the one hope they have for rebuilding their damaged eco-system and economy, will stage a protest and burn seeds from Monsanto in Haiti on June 4, World Environment Day. In solidarity with the Haitian farmers, Chicago food justice activists are holding an evening of action Friday, June 4, 6:30 – 8 p.m., called “From Haiti to Chicago: Speak OUT against Monsanto!” at the 65th and Woodlawn Community Garden (corner of 65th and Woodlawn).

The gathering will feature: *Speak outs, testimonies about the right to quality food and food sovereignty *Performance by hot Chi-city poets and spoken word artists *Haiti Updates *Planting of heirloom seeds, reclaiming the tradition of seed saving, and rejecting the monopolization of genetically modified foods. For more information, contact Rising in Solidarity with Ayiti (R.I.S.A.) at: or call: (773) 979-3272

'Greenest Market' coming

Cassandra West

glenwood market logoBilling itself as Chicago's "greenest" market, the new Glenwood Sunday Market in Rogers Park opens June 6 at 9 a.m., with a ribbon cutting at 8:30. Food produced by 11 farmers will be offered. All the farmers are and either certified organic or transitioning to organic and come from within 200 radius of Zip Code 60626, the market's website says. Other food vendors will be sourcing sustainably according to strict market guidelines. The market will fill the entire street on Glenwood Avenue between Morse Avenue and Lunt, at the base of the 'L', making it a "Green Stop on the Red Line," organizers say.

Glenwood Sunday Market is located at the intersection of Glenwood & Morse Avenue (1400W-6900N) in Rogers Park. It will operate every Sunday 9 a.m. -1 p.m. June 6 through Oct. 17. Visit its website for more information.

Wholesome Wave Foundation funds 'Link Bucks' at Farmers Markets

Cassandra West

farmers markets produce LINK card users will get more beans for their bucks at Chicago Farmers Markets this season thanks to a grant from the Wholesome Wave Foundation to fund a Double Value Coupon Program. Experimental Station and the City of Chicago announced last week a program to accept Link (food stamps) at five city-run farmers markets starting May 13, 2010 at Daley Plaza. The Wholesome Wave grant will fund $5 in “Link Bucks” to match up to five dollars of LINK purchases per cardholder per market day at the Lincoln Square (Tuesdays), South Shore (Wednesday), Daley Plaza (Thursday), Division Street (Saturday), and Beverly (Sunday) farmers markets, a press release issued Tuesday says. When a shopper makes a LINK purchase at one of five participating farmers markets, the shopper will receive up to five extra dollars (“LINK Bucks”) to purchase more nutritious, local food. The “LINK Bucks” are valid at any of the five markets for the entire season (expiring October 30, 2010) and do not need to be redeemed the same day.

Experimental Station is a not-for-profit incubator of innovative cultural, educational, and environmental projects and small-scale enterprises. It was established in 2002 in Chicago’s Woodlawn neighborhood.

The mission of Wholesome Wave Foundation Charitable Ventures Inc. is to nourish neighborhoods by supporting increased production and access to healthy, fresh and affordable locally grown food for the well-being of all. Wholesome Wave is based in Westport, CT.

Lincoln Park Farmers Market opens May 15

Cassandra West

farmers marketThe revamped Lincoln Park Farmers Market starts Sat., May 15 and continues every Saturday from 7am-1pm until Oct. 30 at the Lincoln Park High School parking lot (Armitage & Orchard).

The new layout of the market puts vendors on the east half of the parking lot, allowing for patrons to enter and park through the west entrance.

For updates or more information, visit

Here are the vendors scheduled for the market: Dotson's Farm--Lynwood IL Ellis Family Farms--Benton Harbor,MI Farm Fresh Foodstuffs (NEW! Meats, Pasta and Cheese)--Naperville, IL Froehlich's Finest Fruits and Vegetable--Berrien Center, MI Garden Offerings--Huntley, IL Highrise Baking Company--Highland Park, IL Hoffman's Greenhouses-- Mundelein, IL K.V. Stover and Sons LLC--Berrien Springs, MI La Provence Inc. (NEW! Baked Goods)--Chicago Lyons Fruit Farm--South Haven, MI M.A. Madsen Farms--St. Anne, IL Mick Klug Farms--St. Joseph, MI Nichols Farm and Orchard Inc.--Marengo, IL Noffke Family Farms--Coloma, MI River Valley Ranch-- Burlington, WI Smits Farms--Chicago Heights, IL Spencer Foods, Inc. (NEW! Cooking Brats on site)--Chicago Stamper Cheese Co.--Chicago The Cookie Jar (NEW! Baked goods including gluten free)--Chicago The Flower Garden--St. Anne, IL Twin Garden Farms (Sweet Corn starting in July)--Harvard, IL

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.

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.

A garden grew in Woodlawn...and produced this blog

Cassandra West

Seeding Chicago grew from many long dinner conversations between two friends in summer 2009. One friend, Susan, was a new urban farmer, excited by the prospect of growing her favorite vegetables on the 10 x 10 plot she rented in the Woodlawn Community Garden. The other friend, Cassandra, was intrigued by the idea of growing food on a city block and would drive from the suburbs every few weeks to check out Susan’s crop and photograph its progress.

The more time the two friends spent at the community garden, the more they both realized that something far bigger than their fascination with urban farming was taking shape. Chicago was becoming a new epicenter for the burgeoning urban farming movement. Aspiring farmers in neighborhoods from Avondale to Logan Square to Woodlawn were planting the early seeds of a movement, which, now we see, is spreading like wild flowers.

We expect this year's growing season to be even more bountiful than the last.