CHICAGO — In a neighborhood typically tied to troubled streets and high crime, a group of residents is working to fight that reputation and food insecurity by returning to Illinois’ roots of farming.
Englewood residents are producing up to 40,000 lbs. of produce a season in an effort of ending food insecurity.
On Wednesday mornings, the growing home delivery truck makes its weekly stop at Englewood’s Salvation Army food pantry.
The truck is filled with free boxes of food filled with the freshest of vegetables picked that morning to help hungry neighbors in need.
What is unique about this operation is that the food is grown just down the street at an urban farm called ‘Growing Home’, located at the intersection of 58th Street and Wood Street. The farm opened in 2006, hoping to serve as an oasis in the middle of a food desert.
Janelle St. John and her team have worked to make Growing Home a USDA approved, keeping the certification with five full-time staffers and approximately 80 trainees in and out each year, keeping the peppers, eggplant and kale up to standard.
“We believe the farm can teach valuable transferable skills while being a therapeutic space, while teaching people how to eat healthy and grow their own food,” St. John said.
What isn’t sold at farmer’s markets or pop-ups is meant to be grown in and consumed by the Englewood community. The experts teach other residents how to grow and cook their own food as well.
“What we sell for a dollar on the North Side, we sell for 50 cents in Englewood,” St. John said.
St. John added that senior citizens can have their pick of everything there on Thursdays.
Every week, 75 special boxes make their way to Englewood’s Salvation Army to be given way alongside recipes.
When people hear about USDA certified organic produce grown in Englewood, Captain AJ Zimmerman with the Salvation Army said he gets the same response every time.
“In Englewood?”, Zimmerman said.
Those working at the farm say that there is plenty of beauty happening behind in the violence, with a tightly knit community behind the effort.
“I want people to see just how neighborly this program is with people who care, not just what goes into our bodies but the quality of it,” Zimmerman said.
When they taste the okra, Swiss chard and homegrown honey for the first time, they know growing home is doing something different.
“When you see that participation in growing your own food, the pride you feel when you’re preparing it, there is something else that comes from touching the dirt and preparing your own food,” St. John said.
The next big plan for Growing Home is to build a red barn across the street to attract more locals, intrigue neighbors and set up a farmer’s market five days a week to feed the hungry in the Englewood community.