City Farm Boasts Quality and Jobs - A Tomato Grows in Chicago, and Beets
"With 80,000 vacant lots in the city of Chicago, 70th Street Farm aims to convert as many spaces as possible for the creation of high quality food while offering training to youth and adults and beautifying despoiled spaces."
By Sufiya Abdur-Rahman
Chicago Tribune staff reporter
August 26, 2003
A pile of rocks, dirt and chunks of wood was all Tiffany Bryant, 13, could see as she walked past a vacant lot on the corner of Clybourn and Cleveland Avenues on the way to her uncle's apartment in Cabrini-Green.
That was until last spring. Then, green sprouts popped up from the soil, clusters of lavender, pink and white flowers bloomed and sunflowers taller than Tiffany grew against a chain-link fence.
The two-thirds-acre City Farm, a Resource Center project, with 1,500 tomato plants and nearly year-round growth of carrots, beets and other root crops, has added some green to the otherwise concrete environment of Cabrini-Green. More plants will take root in the area as the city announced Monday that the urban farm will expand to a nearby one-acre vacant lot.
"It makes the community look [much] better," said Tiffany, who hesitantly tried a tomato grown in the farm, not knowing how sweet it would taste. "I don't eat tomatoes and stuff," she said.
All the more reason for there to be farms throughout Chicago--for better nutrition and education, said Ken Dunn, founder of the Resource Center, 222 E. 135th Pl., a non-profit environmental education organization.
"I think a garden like this for every ward in the city should be the goal," Dunn told Ald. Walter Burnett (27th), Ald. Vi Daley (43rd) and Planning and Development Commissioner Alicia Berg after a news conference Monday at the City Farm. "It can be part of the [school] curriculum."
It's possible, Dunn said, because there are plenty of vacant lots in the city, particularly in poor neighborhoods.
Though there are several city gardens in Chicago, usually made to beautify neighborhoods rather than sell produce, urban farms like the Resource Center's and the Institute for Community Resource Development's lots on the West Side are not as plentiful.
"The areas where this is available is where there is a need for jobs," Dunn said.
A one-acre farm would employ three people from the neighborhood, each making $20,000 to $23,000 a year. The farms are only temporary, though, because as the city comes up with uses for the land, the farms have to move. The lots near Cabrini-Green will likely become mixed-income housing within two years, Berg said.
"This is an exciting project because it demonstrates what can happen when the city works together to improve the aesthetics of a neighborhood," Berg said.
The city allows the Resource Center to farm vacant land for free, providing it can raise $30,000 per acre from investors to fence the lot, get rich soil and start planting.
So far, the Resource Center has raised $5,000 for the new Cabrini-Green farm, the center's fifth Chicago farm, and plans to raise the rest within a month.
Food grown in the Resource Center's farms is sold to expensive local restaurants, including Frontera Grill, Scoozi and Mod, and the income pays the farmers, Dunn said.
"This is a viable business. It's not a hobby," he said.
George Bumbaris, executive chef at the Ritz-Carlton Chicago, said he uses City Farm produce in his kitchen because of the quality even though it's more expensive.
"They're able to pick the produce right when it's ripe," Bumbaris said. "You actually smell it. If you go to Jewel or Dominick's and you buy a tomato, it's been shipped from I-don't-know-where. You're not going to get the same smell."
"The challenge is significant, but as partners emerge we'll get them all green," Dunn said. He's used to the work. Growing up on a farm in the then 50-person town of Partridge, Kan., Dunn was raised farming land by hand.
"The requirement of the work is the requirement of nature," Dunn said. "You work when the sun is out, you take your break when the snow comes down."
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