When I learned that Growing Home Chicago, a huge urban organic farm – was smack in the middle of one of the most “dangerous” neighborhoods in the country – I was instantly intrigued. A chance encounter last summer with one of their postcards led me to the farm where I came for the food, stayed as a volunteer and left with a newfound understanding of health in the hood, and how I could help.
Les Brown started the program in 2002 as a way to help homeless Chicagoans gain job skills. It has now evolved into a thriving initiative serving hundreds with solid job skills as well as an incredible new connection to nature. In addition to the Englewood location there is a larger farm in rural Illinois. The farm operates year round, selling at several farmers markets as well as supplying many of the city’s restaurants that feature “from farm to table” cuisine.
Every Wednesday from May to October, Growing Home is open to the public for Farmstand Wednesdays, offering a weekly harvest of organic produce for a nice price. With all this greatness, I figured why not volunteer while I was in town. Plus what better way to get freshly harvested food – as close to live food as you can get in the big city!
Along with working the farmstand, I assisted Growing Home’s outreach coordinator, Sonya Harper who like me, started a career in media but began to need something more. Born and raised in Englewood, Sonya stays busy with Growing Home and has also built other community initiatives like the Greater Englewood CDC. In those few short weeks, I learned from her so much about the changing landscape of her community and the city’s plans for it.
The lovely Sonya Harper giving a tour Fellow fab foodie blogger Tom Schmidt
In addition to the countless major press outlets stopping in each week, I also had a chance to meet people from all over the world representing other organic food initiatives. Most importantly I was able to meet with the people of Englewood neighborhood who benefit most from the farmstand. Each week I offered samples of vegan dishes featuring our weekly harvest. It was cool to inspire the community and the staff with new flavors. After this summer I’m sure my Garlic Honey Mustard Sauce is famous – in Englewood at least! Be sure to check out the recipe below.
My “sample sessions” were also an interesting observation of food and nutrition within our society. I found that the more sickness a person had to personally deal with, the more educated they were on nutrition. It let me know that too often in our society nutrition is seen as a reaction instead of a prevention. I hope that the continued growth of Growing Home and the addition of Whole Foods grocery will successfully bring even more nutritional awareness to the existing Englewood community — and beyond.
To donate, volunteer or for more information visit www.growinghomeinc.org