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For three years, we’ve proudly supported Windy City Harvest (WCH). The organization grew out of the Chicago Botanical Gardens’ urban agriculture education and jobs-training initiative. It has helped build local food systems, healthier communities and a greener economy. WCH expands on these principles through the communities it serves. The organization brings in healthier food options, provides jobs for at-risk youth and reinforces education in a safe space.
While their North Lawndale farming sites on Chicago’s west side had been in the community for a while, interaction with residents who were not in any of WCH’s programs was minimal. Thanks to its partnership with Lawndale Christian Health Center (LCHC), Windy City Harvest was able to renovate a building that became available to rent near its Farm on Ogden location. Now, WCH has a spectacular space that is a door into the community and a base of operations for programs it offers.
Helping youths from age 15 to 18 learn useful life skills and healthy habits, WCH’s youth programs are a vital part of the community. Youths who work at the Farm have their lives enriched by learning to harvest different foods, fruits and vegetables. They also learn to cook the food so they can have healthy meals at work. Many have started growing their own gardens at home, demonstrating the Farm’s positive impact on their lives outside of work.
These skills are important to have in food deserts. The Farm on Ogden tries to help improve this situation by selling vegetables, fish, eggs and more at its new site and at a farmer’s market-style tent at LCHC’s Green Tomato Café. With the help of supporters like BCBSIL and retail partners, the food at the farmer’s market is sold at very reasonable prices to encourage healthy eating in the community. In addition, Green Tomato Café receives all its food from WCH and prepares healthy meals for purchase by all who stop in for a bite to eat.
Recognizing the importance of complementing - not gentrifying - the community, WCH has found additional ways to meet North Lawndale’s specific needs. With high incarceration rates within the community, the Farm helps provide transitional employment and training for adults re-entering the workforce. Transitional employees have an opportunity to become full-time workers and participate in the farm’s apprenticeship program to learn all the ins and outs of urban farming.
For community members who are unsure of what to buy and how to kick-start a healthier lifestyle, the Farm on Ogden has VeggieRX classes. Residents can come learn, in English or Spanish, about healthy eating and are sent home with a box of vegetables grown at the Farm to get them started. There are also volunteer opportunities for residents to gain hands-on farming experience.
WCH’s impact on the community continues to grow. After only a month of being open, the new structure at the Farm on Ogden has become a hub for the community to gather in a safe, open space. It has encouraged residents to come in and connect through learning more about urban farming, nutrition and healthier choices.
From growing food, to growing and connecting the community, Windy City Harvest’s Farm on Ogden produces more value for the community than one would ever guess an urban farm could. Visit the Chicago Botanic Garden’s website to learn more about the Windy City Harvest program all over the Chicagoland area.
Originally published 11/20/2018; Revised 2019
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