Stacey Kimmons, Windy city Harvest graduate, works on the rooftop garden at McCormick Place.
The Windy City Harvest and SAVOR partnership replaced roof garden at McCormick Place in 2013 with vegetables. Farm coordinator Darius Jones estimates the 2014 season will yield 18,000 pounds of produce. Read about this story and other successes in Roof to Table (PDF) from Landscape Architecture Magazine’s August issue.
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!
That’s Angie with the shovel and the heels! :D
Green Youth Farm alumni/intern Joe Young
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
Green Youth Farm class of 2013 at the Washington Park (Chicago) Green Youth Farm
Earlier this summer I stood on the rooftop of the McCormick Place convention center along Chicago’s lakefront and looked around. In front of me were vast rectangular trays of a monoculture of low yellow sedum and bare soil.
McCormick Place West planted with sedum
What I saw in my mind’s eye was bed after garden bed bursting with kale, collards, carrots, radishes, lettuces, peppers, beans, beets, tomatoes, and herbs. For in that space, as part of the Chicago Botanic Garden’s ongoing mission to promote sustainable gardening and to train Chicago residents for jobs in urban agriculture and green industries, we had just launched the largest farm-to-fork rooftop garden in the Midwest.
In partnership with SAVOR…Chicago, the food service provider for McCormick Place, the Garden has created a 20,000-square-foot rooftop enterprise that will likely yield about 4,000 pounds of produce this year—its first—and double or triple that amount in subsequent years. Already, we are well on our way to that first half-season harvest.
McCormick Place West planted with vegetables
Within this enormous rooftop garden we will expand our urban agriculture capabilities, create more hands-on training and job opportunities for our Windy City Harvest participants, and serve as a local source of fresh produce to this major international convention center. Later this summer, we expect the first of what will be many harvests in years to come—and many lives changed for the better.
The McCormick Place rooftop garden was designed and planted by Angela Mason, the Garden’s director of urban agriculture, and staff from our Windy City Harvest program, which offers the state’s first accredited urban agriculture certificate.
Stacey Kimmons, a crew member of Windy City Harvest
Over the past five years, Windy City Harvest has planted and maintained five acres of vegetable gardens at six Chicago locations. This newest rooftop garden, like the other sites, will become one of the program’s living laboratories, offering hands-on experience to Windy City Harvest students.
As I lingered on the rooftop that day, contemplating the garden-to-be in front of me amid the magnificent expanse of Chicago, I felt acutely my place as one of many people, within the Garden and well beyond, committed to the idea of making the world a better place, one step—or one garden bed—at a time.
Everyone one must eat. This basic need creates both common ground and opportunity for Myrna Vazquez and Sophie Krause, Chicago Botanic Garden interns bringing vegetables to market as they prepare for careers in environmental education.
“Food is more than a daily life necessity, it is a link to our cultures, economies, industries, and environments,” said Krause, who recently graduated from the University of California at Santa Cruz. “Because of this, I see food as a powerful tool for fostering a more environmentally literate society.”
Sophie Krause (left) and Myrna Vazquez sell Windy City Harvest produce at the Chicago Botanic Garden Farmers’ Market.
The Garden’s Windy City Harvest urban agriculture certificate program, an accredited nine-month course offered in partnership with the Richard J. Daley College, is providing Krause and Vazquez a practical, hands-on education in sustainable urban agriculture. Six months of study at the college’s Arturo Velasquez Institute taught the two women such farming techniques as soil testing, prepping raised beds, seeding, and planting. Their knowledge is growing through a three-month internship in the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden.
“I’m learning to grow beautiful, functional, and educational gardens,” said Vazquez, who worked in an after-school drug-prevention program before enrolling in the certificate program as part of a midlife career change. Vazquez says she’s absorbing all the Garden has to offer, including beekeeping, natural pest control and native plant gardening.
Sophie Krause gets vegetables ready for market.
The women gain market-management skills when they sell the produce at the Garden’s bimonthly Farmers’ Markets, offered the first and third Sundays of the month through October 30. “Nothing feels better than working hard to harvest for market, where I get to see the whole system come full circle—from planting a seed to feeding a customer and to helping the Windy City Harvest program grow,” Krause said. “Today’s food system demands a revival, and it feels good to be part of that process.”
Jesus Cuezzi first joined the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Green Youth Farm Program in 2009. He began as a high school Crew Member at the North Chicago/ Waukegan Green Youth Farm, before moving up into the Crew Leader role in 2010 and then into the Market and Growing Apprentice role from 2011–12.
Throughout his employment at Green Youth Farm, Jesus has proven to be a hardworking, trustworthy, very capable and outgoing person, with an adventurous soul.
He was considered a leader among his peers at the farm.
“Jesus has always taken customer service to the next level—when one regular customer hurt her leg and couldn’t make the trip to the market, Jesus offered to do some personal shopping for her and hand deliver farm fresh produce to her at home.”
— Laura Erickson, Green Youth Farm Sales Coordinator
For the last three months Jesus Cuezzi has been volunteering on an organic olive farm in Italy…
“I stayed with a wonderful family that owns an agritourismo in Riparbella, Tuscany. Ah, what a beautiful place! People are friendly. Food is made from heaven! The scenery is breathtaking. It’s simply a great country. I was able to learn a bit more Italian there. We harvest olives for about a month. I was in charge of taking care of the livestock. I fed and cared for donkeys, pigs, goats, horses, geese and chickens. The rest of the woofers didn’t care much for the animals, so I took that opportunity.”
— Jesus Cuezzi
Jesus singing with fellow Green Youth Farm participants for a talent show.
Now back in the United States, Jesus is currently interviewing for a farming position with Tempel Farms in Old Mill Creek, IL, while helping to support his mother and brother. Jesus hopes to travel again in the fall to work on an organic farm in Central or South America. He has been a true success for our programs and we are proud to acknowledge his work, presence and persistence in the urban agriculture field.