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Evolving stories About Growing Food in a Big City

Filtering by Tag: local Agriculture

South Side gardens showcase Chicago's green thumbs

Cassandra West

SEEDING CHICAGO'S VIDEO REPORT ON THE SOUTH SIDE JULY 31 GARDEN TOUR

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.

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

Cassandra West

REPORT FROM SOUTH AFRICA

By Susan Richardson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summer at the Hull-House Farm: Episode 3

Cassandra West

We're back with our latest episode on the Hull-House Heirloom Farm, located at the University of Illinois-Chicago campus. When we checked in July 1 with farm director Ryan Beck, he was in the middle of talking with a group of students visiting from Northwestern University, explaining the rewards and challenges of managing an urban farm.

On this day, we could see just how much the vegetables had exploded since our last visit. Summer greens were at their peak, ready for harvesting, which Ryan said takes a lot of his time now. Butterflies and bees were busy in the garden, and the sun was high in the sky, generating lots of good summertime growing heat.

In this episode, we talk with one of the farm's volunteers, a visiting students, and, of course, Ryan, who was trying his best to beat the heat and stay on top of his booming crops.

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:

Documentary explores history of the School Lunch Program

Cassandra West

Lunch Line documentary clip By Susan Richardson Lunch Line, a new documentary about the history of the school lunch program, comes at  an important time. The 64-year-old  program is up for reauthorization by Congress as part of the Child Nutrition Act, bringing attention to what children are eating, where it comes from and the role of the federal government  in ushering food from farms to forks.

The program, created in 1946 by President Harry Truman, is designed to reduce child hunger, but the nutritional value of school lunches has come under fire.  Critics say the lunches are loaded with high fat, high calorie and heavily processed food.  School lunch officials counter that it is too expensive to provide fresh food to millions of children.  With support from the White House, First Lady Michelle Obama's quest to reduce obesity is calling for more nutritional school lunches.  Given the attention surrounding the school lunch program, Lunch Line could influence the legislative debate about the future of a program that feeds millions of American children for about $2.68 per child per lunch and has historically enjoyed bipartisan support.

Seeding Chicago interviewed Michael Graziano, co-director, with Ernie Park, of Lunch Line.

What prompted you to make the film? Do you have an interest in the healthy food movement? I had read Wendell Berry and some Michael Pollan. But we are not food advocacy people. We are constantly looking for new ideas and read a story in The Chicago Reader  about The Organic School Project (a school-based pilot program that helps children make healthy food choices) and thought it might yield some interesting things about our society.  The plan was to make a verite film. We shot about a year of (the project) then realized the school lunch program begged bigger questions. We needed to talk to people who could  answer some of those big questions, like Susan Levine of the University of Illnois Chicago. who has written about school lunch policy.  Once we kind of broke the seal on putting interviews in,  we thought we  might as well talk to a range of people who  have been influential in the actual school lunch policy.

Why should Americans care about school lunch policy? It's important for a few reasons.  A big thing that gets left out is that it's an important feeding program for 31 million kids, and most of them receive  one-half to two-thirds of their total caloric intake from school lunch per day.  For many of those kids school lunch is the only square meal they will get in a day, but it's so complicated now with obesity.  At the same time as you have hunger as a problem you also have obesity as a problem.

What effect do you think the film will have on the school lunch debate? I think that our film illustrates how policy, politics, money, and nutritition all interact , and how they have interacted historically. And I think if you want to change a system you have to understand how it works. For all that Jamie Oliver did to raise awareness about problems of school lunch in terms of affecting substantive change, you wonder how successful it will be.  It may alienate some of the people you need to enroll to your cause to make the change.  If we can get people to understand the context or the back story, there is actually a lot more common ground (around the school lunch program) than people might realize.

To organize a screening of the film, contact lunchlinescreening@gmail.com. Watch a trailer of film.   For more information, visit http://www.facebook.com/lunchlinefilm.

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: risinginsolidarity@gmail.com or call: (773) 979-3272

How far does your food travel?

Cassandra West

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

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

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

Hull-House farm (Episode 2): Some soup and signs of growth

Cassandra West

Guests enjoy Re-Thinking Soup at Hull-House Soup and conversation at the Jane Addams Hull-House dining hall.

We promised a few weeks ago in a post about the Hull-House Museum urban farm that we'd return with regular updates on its 2010 growing season. We got back to the farm to record Episode 2 (see video below) this week after stopping in at the weekly (Tuesdays) Re-Thinking Soup lecture and lunch, a big draw for local activists and academics. At least 100 people (our best guess) showed up for big bowls of curry flavored soup, prepared in honor of this week's featured speaker.

Revathi speaks to food justice activists at Hull-House on May 18.

The guest speaker was Revathi, an Indian schoolteacher turned environmentalist, organic farmer/activist who works out of Trichy district in Tami Nadu with an organization called that trains farmers in eco-friendly farming techniques. She and her 12-year-old son, also a farmer, are traveling throughout the U.S. sharing their earth-friendly knowledge of agricultural techniques and a deep love of and respect for the land. Revathi shared with us so many stories, so much information about small-scale farming and how people the world over are being exploited by corporate agriculture/food interests. She says Americans may think they're rich with all their material wealth, but she thinks Indians are wealthier because they have more agricultural diversity and they're more connected with where they get their food. Even American's composting practices can't compare to those of Indian farmers, she says. In Indian, it takes less than a month to develop a rich compost, whereas here it takes almost half a year.

Revathi left us with lots of useful, enlightening information. But what we will most and long remember is one simple, eloquent and sagacious statement: "Food is medicine."

We'll be "Re-thinking" a lot of what she shared because it all makes so much sense.

'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.

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 chicagofarmersmarkets.us.

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

Crops on the corner: Hull-House farm a model for local production

Cassandra West

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hi_FO6vG8zk&hl=en_US&fs=1&rel=0&color1=0x234900&color2=0x4e9e00&hd=1]Standing inside a fenced-in space on the UIC campus, you can see Chicago's tallest building, the Willis Tower (formerly Sears), a black soaring tube of steel and glass pitched stately against a cloudless sky. Cars, buses and trucks whiz by this barren patch on the corner of Taylor and Halsted streets in a city always on the move. All around, city life runs at its breakneck pace, people on foot and in cars preoccupied and on their way to somewhere. Few take time to notice the incongruity set on this quarter-acre green space in the landmark neighborhood where the world's most famous settlement house once stood: an urban farm at the beginning of its growing season.

We're at the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum Urban Farm, a half block from the museum and famous dining hall that now hosts a re-imagined soup kitchen, which pays homage to the city's socially conscious past--and present. The farm, a model for local food production, also supplies heirloom crops for "Re-Thinking Soup," a public and communal event where Chicagoans gather to eat healthy, nutritious soup and have "fresh, organic conversation about social, cultural, economic and environmental food issues."

It's mid-April and the farm is springing to life. Farmer Ryan and volunteers prepare the soil, combining rich, dark compost with straw and horse manure. They're setting up raised beds on the farm's eastern edge and planting the farm's first crops: potatoes, herbs and greens. Inside the portable hoop house and brick-and-glass greenhouse, tiny pepper and cabbage seedlings are starting to grow. The stage is being set for the new growing season. Soon, whether you notice or not, food will grow where many of us least expect to see it.

Over the coming months, Seeding Chicago will drop in regularly on the Hull-House Museum urban farm to bring you fresh updates on what's new and growing. We hope our reports will satisfy your hunger to understand the challenges and rewards of growing food in the city.

May 1 is deadline for farmers market listings on state dept of agriculture website

Cassandra West

farmers marketTo have your farmers market be included and updated on the Illinois Department of Agriculture's website, contact Delayne Reeves by May 1st. See details below. This information is important for government agencies (local, federal, state) to have an accurate count of farmers markets and where they are located. Decisions about funding, etc., will be made on this information. This is like a "Farmers Market Census" -- everyone needs to be counted!

Information submitted will be shared with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and other groups soon after the May 1st deadline. Also, details on the IDOA website will be hidden from public viewing after that deadline unless the information has been updated during 2010.

If you are a new market or need your username and password e-mailed to you, contact delayne.reeves@illinois.gov.

Chicago residents can view a list of local farmers markets and the 2010 rules and regulations governing growers and food producers by clicking here. Chicago's Farmers Markets bring more than 70 vendors selling fresh fruits, vegetables, plants and flowers to over 20 neighborhoods throughout the City of Chicago. Markets are held Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday around the city.

Delayne Reeves Marketing Representative Illinois Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Marketing and Promotions Mailing Address: State Fairgrounds, P. O. Box 19281, Springfield, IL 62794-9281

Shipping Address: 801 E. Sangamon Ave. Springfield, IL 62702 217-524-9129 217-524-5960 fax

Trees are budding, but green movement in full bloom

Cassandra West

As the first buds of spring start appearing on trees here in Chicago, we're seeing just how vibrant the local agriculture scene is. It is blooming in so many directions and so many places. This year, we think, is going to be a watershed one. The growing green movement we're trying to chronicle and fully support is exciting and hopeful and positive, and it shows how people working together and cooperating across social and economic borders can bring about meaningful change. Earlier this week, we met Jamal Ali, author of "Black and Green: Black Insights for the Green Movement," and we hope to have an interview with him here soon. In the nutshell, though, his book "is a call to action for the black community to join the green movement." It offers insights, ideas, and strategies that demonstrate how African Americans can benefit from the movement and fuel the go-green effort.

We've also heard talk of a possible Annual Green Conference here in Chicago. Will get back to you with more on that later. At the "Greening the Southside" discussion put on earlier this week by Cafe Society, we heard some powerful arguments for creating neighborhood-based energy co-ops that are designed to keep energy profits in the neighborhood. That certainly sounds interesting and worth pursuing.

Martha Boyd, Program Director, Angelic Organics Learning Center in Woodlawn, shared with us a resource-rich web site, Good Food for All, which offers "local food and agriculture resources for the Greater Chicago Foodshed." We like that term, foodshed. One useful tidbit from the site that caught our eyes was a listing of neighborhood and community gardens operated by the organization, NeighborSpace, which "helps community groups protect and secure their community garden or park."

We have lots of exciting news and coverage ahead. Stay tuned. Meanwhile, we hope you enjoy the lovely weather we're having. Wishing you all a wonderful Easter weekend and a very Good Friday.