Chicago is known for its signature skyline, deep-dish pizza and the ‘L’. But amongst the hustle and bustle of this metropolis are plots of urban gardens, adding a bit of greenery to the steel and concrete of the city. A multitude of organizations are helping cultivate these gardens and farms which not only distribute fresh produce but also create new jobs for its surrounding residents.

One of the leading organizations is Growing Home, a social enterprise that aims to empower the people and communities of Chicago through urban farms. With locations in South Side neighborhoods (Englewood and Back of the Yards) and the city of Marseilles, IL, Growing Home has worked to establish a connection between organic agriculture and job and community development. Their produce is sold at the Green City Market and various Chicago restaurants. Additionally, Growing Home sells to the residents of Englewood who otherwise may not have access to fresh, healthy food. The job creation aspect is especially stressed with Growing Home which provides transitional employment and green industry training to “hard-to-hire” individuals, once again showing the correlative bond that can be made with economic development and local food. As the University of Chicago aims to promote better local neighborhood engagement, the EAF group has been researching various groups with which the University could form a partnership. The marriage of environmentally-friendly, local food and local economic development make Growing Home an appealing choice and noteworthy enterprise.

Another organization based in the Midwest is Growing Power, which was founded in 1993 by former college and pro basketball player Will Allen. This urban farming and education organization began in Milwaukee and has since expanded to Chicago, where four high-functioning urban farms now supply the city with fresh, local produce and serve as a training ground for future farmers through programs like this one. In addition to selling their produce through their CSA and at farmers markets, Growing Power’s Chicago farms also supply ingredients to over 20 restaurants throughout the city, including Allium and the Publican. In Milwaukee, the Growing Power Café and Market serves food using fresh ingredients grown on its farms, with profits going toward the mission of educating future farmers through workshops, demonstrations, and work training programs.

As a long-established program with strong leadership (Allen has earned substantial grants from the Ford Foundation and the Kellogg Foundation for his work in urban agriculture, along with a MacArthur “Genius Grant” in 2008), Growing Power is another great example of what a successful urban agriculture program can look like. By partnering with organizations like this, the UChicago dining program can help encourage this model of sustainable, local agriculture throughout the city of Chicago.

Along with Growing Power and Growing Home, Chicago is home to numerous organizations and programs dedicated to promoting local food growth and distribution. As issues concerning the environment and health become more and more pertinent, this number is bound to grow, allowing more and more Chicagoans to include fresh produce in their diets.

So, what’s for dinner? Local food, of course!

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