Thoughts on Urban Farming
This week’s health topic was obesity, an epidemic that is not only affects Washington Park and Chicago, but all of the country. Based on the absence of grocery stores in many neighborhoods and the cheap price of processed foods, it is no surprise that large numbers of people are adopting unhealthy eating habits. However, one promising solution that has been gaining popularity is urban farming, which I have now been exposed to multiple times throughout the summer. For our weekly field trip we visited Growing Home, an urban farm in Englewood that grows a wide variety of organic produce while also hiring and training people with significant barriers to employment. Furthermore, in Washington Park we have volunteered with two different organizations focused on urban agriculture. The first of these is the Sweet Water Foundation, which uses an aquaponics system to grow a wide variety of vegetables on an impressively large tract of land.
Meanwhile, the RTW Vet Center is in the process of developing a community garden, and we have been helping them harvest their first batch of vegetables throughout the summer.
While all three of these organizations are engaging in similar agricultural activities, I found it interesting how their missions and methods of operating differ. Growing Home focuses primarily on employing and training those who need the experience, as the majority of their produce leaves Englewood and is only sold locally for a period of four hours per week. On the other hand, Sweet Water and RTW rely on volunteers and partnerships with city programs that employ high school students, and the produce is sold for a reduced cost to community members. While both models certainly benefit the community in their own ways, I wonder if one is more effective or if another organization has combined these two approaches to both provide both jobs and produce to communities, which would be ideal.
With urban agriculture also comes certain challenges related to the city environment, as I observed firsthand this past week. At Growing Home our guide mentioned how they had to remove and replace the original soil, as it was full of synthetic chemicals and unfit for agricultural growth. The fact that many urban lots need to have their soil replaced before produce can be grown presents a large barrier for agricultural enterprises. In addition, while we were weeding at the Vet Center, we were saddened to see that a significant portion of the crops we planted had been stolen, despite not being ripe. As a garden for the community, the Vet Center ideally should not have to protect their crops in any way, and people should respect the Center’s noble efforts to improve access to produce in the neighborhood. At the same time though, it is hard to blame someone for stealing vegetables out of necessity when there is no support structure in place to feed them.
This week we start implementing our final project, which is going to be a community gathering for the neighborhood! WaPa out!