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At Windy City Harvest Youth Farm, our young workers are exposed to nutrition in ways that relate directly to their work. As the season progresses, new crops are harvested and introduced to our staff.

A lot of these are vegetables they have never eaten or seen before.

They also are surprised at the nutritional benefits in some of these vegetables. Here are three vegetables we are harvesting at Windy City Harvest that are nutrition powerhouses:

#1—Scallions

 They grow easily and can be used in many dishes. Scallions, or green onions, are never the centerpiece of a meal. They are pungent and crisp, and most often are used as a garnish or topping.

Scallions

Scallions (Allium sp.)

Scallions are a part of the allium family, meaning it can call the garlic, onion, and leek its brothers and sisters. Like other alliums, scallions contain special properties like organosulfur compounds and allyl sulfides, as well as thiosulfinates. Those are complicated words, but what they mean is that these compounds are being studied for their effects on blood pressure, cholesterol, and cancer. Most importantly, they taste great on everything from mashed sweet potatoes to chicken tacos.

#2—Purple Potatoes

The nutritional reputation of potatoes has suffered due to their high carbohydrate content. However, potatoes can be very nutritious. An especially nutritious potato variety is the purple potato. Purple potatoes taste like other potatoes, but they have an undeniable rich purple color. This is because they are abundant in the antioxidant flavonoid anthocyanin. This is the same flavonoid, or plant pigment, that colors blueberries and pomegranates. 

Purple Peruvian potatoes (Solanum andigenum)

Purple Peruvian potatoes (Solanum andigenum)

Here’s how antioxidants are thought to work: Reactive and unstable molecules called free radicals enter our bodies when we inhale cigarette smoke, breathe polluted air, or even eat an unhealthy diet. Antioxidants bind to them and make them less reactive.

Purple potatoes also contain high amounts of of potassium, even more than bananas. Potassium is important to counteract the effects of a high-sodium diet. 

Purple potatoes are a welcome upgrade from the common russet potato. Just don’t deep fry them.

#3—Red Bell Peppers

Red bell peppers can be crisp and crunchy when raw or savory and sweet when cooked. Green bells are not a unique variety of pepper. They are the same variety as red peppers, but they are picked before ripening. When you let this vegetable ripen to its full potential, the nutrient content increases.

Red bell peppers

Ripening bell peppers turn from green to red.

Red bell peppers are best known for their powerful antioxidant properties. Just one pepper contains twice the daily requirement for Vitamin C, making bell peppers one of the richest foods for Vitamin C. Vitamin C helps grow and repair tissues in the body and helps the body absorb iron. The Vitamin A content comes in at a close second in this sweet pepper. Vitamin A is essential for healthy eyes, skin, and neurological function. One pepper gives you about three-fourths of your daily Vitamin A needs.

Red bell peppers also feature their own flavonoid antioxidant. Just like the purple potatoes, this antioxidant is responsible for the vegetables’ brilliant red color. A colorful plate is truly a healthy plate.

Our Washington Park Youth Farm participants learned a lot this summer as well:

Ryan Hutchinson

Ryan Hutchinson
Windy City Harvest Youth Farm 2017

When I asked Ryan Hutchinson what nutrition fact he was most surprised about, he said, “I was shocked that foods like scallions could help lower blood pressure and can be preventative. My auntie had to go to the hospital for high blood pressure so it was good information to have.”

Caleb Peacock

Caleb Peacock
Windy City Youth Farm 2017

When asked if he had tried any of the veggies from the farm, Caleb Peacock said,”Yeah, all the time. This week, for dinner, my dad made a ‘symphony of squash.’ It had bell peppers, carrots, summer squash, zucchini, and onions cooked in a pressure cooker. It was good! My whole family liked it and went back for seconds…My dad also made zucchini pancakes. They were better than regular pancakes because the zucchini made them super moist.”

Shayna Jackson

Shayna Jackson
Windy City Harvest Youth Farm 2017

Shayna Jackson’s family has incorporated veggies from the farm, too. “I was most surprised by the garlic and scallions. I didn’t know they were healthy. Last week, I took a box of vegetables home from the farm. It was the first time my mom cooked with scallions. We liked them so much that we went to buy more from the store. We had never had them before.”

Shekinah Price

Shekinah Price
Windy City Harvest Youth Farm 2017

Shekinah Price said, “I was surprised that red bell peppers have more vitamin C than oranges.”

At Windy City Harvest Youth Farm, we harvest something seasonal and fresh every week. And every week we harvest something healthy. If you are interested in trying scallions, purple potatoes, or red peppers while meeting our bright youth, come visit Windy City Harvest at our community markets.


Demi Maropoulos

Demi Maropoulos

Demi Maropoulos is a bachelor of science student in the Coordinated Nutrition Program at University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). Demi is in the midst of completing her supervised practice hours in order to become a registered dietitian. Cooking, gardening, and farming is what brought Demi to the profession of dietetics, so it is only fitting that she worked with Windy City Harvest for her community nutrition internship.


Thank you to Conagra Brands Foundation for supporting Windy City Harvest Youth Farm’s healthy eating initiative.


Resources:

  1. http://journal.waocp.org/article_24263_9e02c0447a9eaf4262706d4452473091.pdf
  2. http://udop.uwimona.edu.jm/lifesciences/hortlab/papers/FOOD_1(2)193-201.pdf
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC139960/
  4. http://www.agriculturejournals.cz/publicFiles/48446.pdf
  5. http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/tc/antioxidants-topic-overview
  6. http://www.bmj.com/content/346/bmj.f1378
  7. http://www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/low-potassium/basics/when-to-see-doctor/sym-20050632
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4075694/

©2017 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

The Chicago Botanic Garden’s urban youth outreach and development program, Green Youth Farm, is celebrating its ten-year anniversary this year!

What started as one lone staffer and 13 teens on 1.5 acres in the Lake County Forest Preserve has grown to a program with up to six sites all across Chicago and in Lake County, cultivating a new appreciation for plants and wholesome food in 90 young people a year, while teaching them job skills for future success! Here’s a year-end recap on the people and hard work that make up Green Youth Farm (GYF).

That “lone staffer” mentioned above is also known as our fearless leader and Green Youth Farm program founder, Angela Mason. Angie is also celebrating her ten-year anniversary at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Maybe you haven’t met her…that’s probably because Angie has kept herself pretty busy over the past ten years!

Some of the things she’s developed have been the Windy City Harvest (WCH) adult certificate program in sustainable urban agriculture; the Harvest Corps program for young male offenders to learn about gardening while incarcerated and then placed in transitional jobs with our programs post release; the Kraft Foods Garden in Northfield; and most recently, a new partnership with McCormick Place to turn its green roof into a food production site. If you see Angie around the Garden, grab her quick, because she walks really fast, even in heels!

PHOTO: Angie Mason with Vince Gerasole and GYF kids

That’s Angie with the shovel and the heels! :D

PHOTO: Green Youth Farm alum/intern Joe Young.

Green Youth Farm alumni/intern Joe Young

PHOTO: Green Youth Farm crew member Evon at the North Lawndale community farm stand.

Green Youth Farm crew member Evon at the North Lawndale community farm stand

Green Youth Farm hires program graduates! To date, we have two WCH graduates on staff, and have hired 15 Green Youth Farm graduates and WCH students as summer interns.

Green Youth Farm grows food! This season alone, on less than two acres of land, students and staff grew more than 25,000 pounds of sustainable fruits and vegetables.

PHOTO: Truck bed laden with grocery bags full of fresh vegetables.

Delivery for the WIC cooking demos!

Green Youth Farm feeds communities! Eighty percent of the food we grow is distributed back into the food desert communities where our farms are located. We sell at below-market value prices at our community farm stands and accept all types of federal benefits — the Illinois Link Card; Women, Infants, and Children (WIC); and Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program coupons — as payment. We also partner with WIC through the Community and Economic Development Association (CEDA) of Cook County, the Lake County Health Department, and Sinai Health System to distribute boxes of food to moms with young children in need.

Green Youth Farm cooks! Teens learn that “all life depends on plants” by turning the plants they grow into delicious meals! Each week, a crew cooks a wholesome, plant-based meal for their peers, staff, and farm guests.

PHOTO: Staff and crew feast at picnic tables in the shade on a sunny day.

Green Youth Farm staff and students enjoy a farm-fresh meal cooked by crew members!

Green Youth Farm students are successful adults! Our alumni leave GYF with a sense of community responsibility, a greater appreciation for the environment, and an understanding of what it means to be successful in whatever career they choose for themselves. They carry these values with them through life, no matter what they choose to do…whether that’s college, a job, farming, or raising a family. We are proud of our GYF alums!

PHOTO: Facebook status update.

Facebook post from one of our alumni currently studying environmental studies abroad during a semester at Colgate University. Julio is the first in his family to attend college.

GYF inspires horticultural and food entrepreneurs! Former interns, growers, and coordinators have started businesses all over the United States. These include urban farms at tenspeedgreens.com, food trucks using local, sustainably grown food at luluslocaleatery.com, and sustainable floral design with fieldandflorist.com!

LOGO: Ten-Speed Greens LOGO: Lulu's Local Eatery LOGO: Field & Florist
PHOTO: GYF student Tatiana talking with a guest about the farm's honey.

Tatiana shows off her hard work at the After School Matters annual gala event.

Green Youth Farm partners! Staff from Green Youth Farm works with more than 34 partners from all different kinds of organizations to help deliver quality programming in the communities we serve. Some of these include the Lake County Forest Preserve District, the Chicago Park District, NeighborSpace, Chicago Public Schools, After School Matters, and Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago, Inc.

Green Youth Farm loves volunteers! This year, GYF saw the most dedicated crew of volunteers in its history…volunteers came together to support programming when teens were on-site and do the dirty work of farming when teens were back in school. If you are interested in learning more about the work we do at GYF to cultivate the power of plants to sustain and enrich life in our city’s youth, contact the Chicago Botanic Garden volunteer department!

PHOTO: Group photo of the 2013 Washington Park participants.

Green Youth Farm class of 2013 at the Washington Park (Chicago) Green Youth Farm

©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Winter Farming

So what do you do in winter, anyway?

Eliza Fournier —  February 28, 2013 — 1 Comment

Whenever I tell anyone that I work for the Chicago Botanic Garden, the first response I get is “Wow, you must have the best job ever!” (well, yes, in fact I do) followed quickly by “So, what do you do in the winter?” In response to this question, I have spent the last month or so keeping a photo journal of some winter days at Green Youth Farm.

PHOTO: hoop house in winter.

Winter in the hoophouse, with a great crop of greens.

So what is it we do in the winter?
WE FARM!

Even though everything looks like it is frozen solid, under hoophouses and low tunnels, tucked beneath coldframes and cozy in greenhouses, food continues to grow! Spinach, lettuce mix, and swiss chard will be harvested all winter long, while carrots, onions, and kale await warmer weather and contribute to an earlier spring harvest. Last year alone, Green Youth Farm and Windy City Harvest grew more than 80,000 pounds of produce—all on less than four acres of land. This number would not be possible without maximizing our short Chicago growing season with low-tech season extension.

PHOTO: beehives in winter

Keeping bees warm in winter — hay bales cut down on winter wind getting into the hives.

In addition to growing produce we keep beehives, and last year we harvested more than 70 pounds of honey with our students (many of whom were scared silly of bees when they started the program). Over the winter, we need to check the bees to make sure they have enough food and are staying warm. We are happy to report these hives at our Washington Park location are buzzing!

Confession time: just like the home gardener, we professional gardeners face winter frustrations, too. I’m not proud to admit that we left a couple of hoses out in the garden, now full of frozen water. So yes, some of our wintertime is spent making up for summertime haste.

PHOTO: frozen hose in winter.

Who can we blame this on?

P.S. It was 14 degrees F. this day and the lock to the gate was frozen solid— so to add insult to injury, I had to scale the fence, get the hose, schlep the hose back over the fence…

P.P.S. Word to the wise: put the hose away in October, not February.

WE TEACH

Every year, Community Gardening staff go out to corporations, schools, and garden clubs, as well as conferences and meetings (American Community Gardening Association, Good Food Fest, American Public Garden Association, etc.) spreading the gardening gospel. Last year alone, we reached more than 500 people outside the Chicago Botanic Garden. Our favorite event of the year is our own Facilitator Training program, where we teach folks interested in replicating the Green Youth Farm model more about what we do and how we do it. This year participants came all the way from Springfield!

PHOTO: playing roles in the food distribution system.

Laura Erickson leads the group in one of Green Youth Farm’s favorite workshops: The Food System Chain Game.

 

Recruiting new Green Youth Farmers!

Recruiting new Green Youth Farmers!

WE RECRUIT

The Green Youth Farm will hire 13 staff and more than 90 student participants. This year, we more than 50 applications for the three coordinator positions alone. In addition, each year the Green Youth Farm receives more than 250 applications from students from 15 different Chicago, North Chicago, and Waukegan high schools. It’s always fun reconnecting with former students during high-school recruiting visits.

WE MEET

Between Windy City Harvest and The Green Youth Farm, the Community Gardening Department has more than 50 community partners who enable us to do the work we do outside the Chicago Botanic Garden, providing us space to grow on and work in, and program enhancements like art and access to Women, Infant and Children (WIC) clinics and coupons (we distributed almost 1,000 boxes of produce to the clinics last season). The winter is a great time to reconnect with all of these partners to debrief how last season went and think about how we can constantly improve on our work together.

PHOTO: The Community Gardening team.

Good times in Community Gardening.

While everyone’s job here at the Chicago Botanic Garden is a little different, each one of us is just like those bees in the hive—while the Garden might look peaceful from the outside, on the inside, we are all flapping our wings like crazy to stay warm and productive until spring shines her light on us once again. So until then, stay warm and think spring!!


©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org