Farming Goes Urban in Hyde Park

Having a successful farm may sound silly in the city of Chicago, but a few places in the Hyde Park area are growing fresh produce in the midst of the urban jungle.

In an effort to care for the community’s environment as well as its health, urban gardens are growing quality produce in surprising amounts.

Experimental Station, 6100 S. Blackstone Ave., has a plot of land where they grow anything and everything, from sweet potatoes and red okra, to carrots and collard greens.

The garden thrives from volunteers that help cultivate the crops, as well as the community’s youth that plants the produce through the eight-week gardening program at Carnegie Elementary, 1414 E. 61st Pl., every spring and fall.

“If a child actually plants a vegetable, they are more likely to try it and eat it,” said Kim Werst, the market manager for 61st Street Farmer Market, who is involved with the garden’s program.

She said the fresh, organic produce is distributed to the youth that help plant and maintain it to bring home to their families, as well as to the residents of Jackson Park Terrace apartments that live next to the garden.

“Residents can cultivate their own vegetables here,” Werst said. “It’s a chance for them to overcome barriers of getting fresh food for whatever reasons.”

The St. Paul and the Redeemer Church (SPR), 4945 S. Dorchester Ave., is also growing fresh food to help their fellow neighbors obtain quality produce.

A 850 square foot cultivated space at SPR provides over 1,200 pounds of nutritious food a year, according to Jim Schaal, the food garden coordinator at the church.

“I often wish we had acres of farm rather than square feet of garden, but I trust that this place is where we can best connect faith, food and farm in our densely built urban complex,” he said.

Since 2012, the garden has distributed crops such as onions, broccoli, melons and different types of squash to community members and local shelters. A main receiver of the fresh produce is the St. Martin de Porres House of Hope women’s shelter on Woodlawn Avenue.

“We have an ongoing conversation with the women’s shelter about what they need food-wise, and then we grow that food for them,” Schaal said.

SPR also opens its doors every Wednesday from 3:30p.m. -5:30p.m. as a food pantry for families to pick up the newly harvested crops.

Schaal said that while their garden has been successful, urban gardening as a whole is difficult because of the nature of the city’s soil. He said a key concern with urban gardening is that the soil can be contaminated with led or other metals.

That’s why most urban gardens, such as Experimental Station’s plot, have raised beds to promote better soil upkeep with careful soil testing.

The community members who help out with these urban ecosystems try to keep every aspect of the gardens’ life as local as possible.

Schaal said he has seen a growing movement of urban farmers in the area and says that Hyde Park has become a sort of “food oasis” for fresh and local produce.

“There is an increased interest in where our food comes from. Urban gardening is a transformative power in changing people’s perspectives about their food,” he said.

[Via: Hyde Park Herald]

About Allison Matyus