On a bright, sunny Saturday in June, more than 1,500 people came to see just what was happening inside the renovated paint store along Ogden Avenue in the North Lawndale neighborhood of Chicago.
It was the opening weekend for the Farm on Ogden, a joint project between the Chicago Botanic Garden and Lawndale Christian Health Center (LCHC) that brings food, health, and jobs together under one roof. Visitors explored the 7,300-square-foot greenhouse, marveled in the blue-purple glow of the 50,000-gallon aquaponics system, and picked up vegetables grown in the corner Windy City Harvest Youth Farm.
Autumn Berg, a North Lawndale resident for 17 years, could barely contain her emotions. “I’ve never been more excited about my neighborhood in my life,” she said.
The day before, Garden President and CEO Jean M. Franczyk thanked the many donors and partners for their generous support and steadfast belief that growing food locally makes for healthier individuals and communities. Speakers included Illinois U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, and Alderman Michael Scott, Jr. (24th).
“For a corner that needs economic development, it’s everything a community could ask for. I’m just so happy the Garden has decided to invest in a community like North Lawndale,” said Scott.
Here’s a look inside the Farm, which will be managed by Windy City Harvest, the Garden’s urban agriculture program, in partnership with LCHC.
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:
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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.”
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’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 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 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.
‘Tis the season for the harvest bounty at Windy City Harvest! Our staff and program participants are busy harvesting our final summer crops: peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant; and early fall crops: kale, carrots, and cabbage.
This harvest season we are excited to unveil our new cookbook, Cooking in Season with Windy City Harvest. This cookbook is a collection of our favorite seasonal recipes and features the fresh produce grown and harvested at our farms transformed into healthy dishes by our program participants, staff, and local chefs.
Our program has been lucky to develop wonderful partnerships with local chefs and restaurants. Many of these chefs, including Cleetus Friedman, executive chef and creative chef for Caffé Baci; and John des Rosiers, chef/proprietor of Inovasi, Wisma, and The Otherdoor, have generously shared seasonal recipes that feature Windy City Harvest produce.
Just like planting seeds and harvesting the bounty, cooking is an essential component of the Windy City Harvest program. Program participants learn how to cook with produce grown on the farms, sometimes using fruits and vegetables that may be unfamiliar to them. The participants then share their newfound culinary skills with their communities, whether trading recipes with market customers, providing cooking demonstrations at local WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) clinics, preparing multicourse lunches for their peers, or showcasing their dishes at our annual Open House celebrations.
One of our favorite fall recipes is a grilled kale salad.
Grilled Kale Salad Preparation: 15 to 30 minutes. Serves: 6 to 8
3 pounds (about 4 bunches) toscano kale, washed and dried
½ cup vegetable oil, divided
½ teaspoon salt, plus more for bread
2 garlic cloves, cut in half
½ loaf of sourdough bread (cut into ¾-inch thick slices)
3 large garlic cloves, minced
½ cup lemon juice
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup feta cheese, crumbled
Preheat the grill to high. Stack the kale and cut off the thick end of the stems about 3 inches from the end of the leaf. Compost the stems. In a large bowl or large plastic bag, toss the kale with ⅓ cup of the vegetable oil and salt, until the leaves are evenly coated with oil.
Rub each slice of bread with a garlic clove half. Drizzle the remaining oil on the bread. Grill the bread slices until golden brown with nice grill marks on each side. Set aside. Grill the kale leaves until crispy and cooked—about 30 seconds to 1 minute per side. Dice the grilled bread into croutons, and julienne the kale into bite-size pieces. Place the mixture in a large bowl.
To make the dressing, combine the minced garlic with the lemon juice, olive oil, and salt in a Mason jar. Tighten the lid and shake the jar vigorously to combine the ingredients. Pour the dressing over the kale and bread, and toss the mixture to coat. Add the feta and toss again. Transfer the salad to a serving platter or bowl.
“Lights, camera…veggies!” In fall 2014, farmers at the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Windy City Harvest Youth Farm had an amazing opportunity.
Filmmakers from New York came to Washington Park to meet the teens and record their experiences on the farm for a new documentary that seeks to uncover how we as a nation can make an impact on childhood obesity through creative education and empowerment.
The resulting film, The Kids Menu, will be shown at 6:45 p.m. on March 8 at Century Centre Cinema, 2828 North Clark Street, Chicago. The showing will be followed by a question-and-answer session with filmmaker Joe Cross. Get your tickets here.
The Windy City Harvest teens worked side-by-side with the producer, director, and cameraman to capture moving footage of their work at the farm and how plants have positively impacted their lives. One teen wrote the following:
And tell about it they do in this film. The Windy City Harvest farmers tell just some of the inspirational stories about how kids are choosing a healthier path in The Kids Menu, which is from the same team behind Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead. You’ve heard what’s not working when it comes to nourishing a healthier, happier next generation—now, it’s time to find out what does work.