Urban farm breaks ground in Englewood

October 15, 2011

(WBEZ/Natalie Moore)
A vacant lot on 58th Street is scheduled to be transformed into an urban next year.
(WBEZ/Natalie Moore)
Growing Home Executive Director Harry Rhodes (right) with U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin (left)

The first farm to open under Chicago’s new urban agriculture ordinance broke ground in Englewood on Friday.

Honore Street Farm will be on 58th and 59th Street and managed by Growing Home, a nonprofit organic agriculture business that employs individuals who’ve had problems with employment instability or substance-abuse.

The surrounding neighborhood of Englewood is known to have food deserts – areas lacking retail outlets that sell fresh, healthy food. The farm will open next spring with hoop houses. For more than 20 years, the land had been an abandoned lot.

The farm is an extension of the existing Wood Street Farm, which operates on the next lot over and grows produce from arugula to spinach to tomatoes.

Growing Home sees itself as an antidote to the food-desert problem, and Honore Street Farm will help out.

“This will more than triple what we’re able to produce,” said Harry Rhodes, executive director of Growing Home. “The demand is huge. One of the goals of the Englewood Urban Agriculture Task Force is to create a large number of farms. So we’re showing the way and showing others how it can done. By scaling up we’re showing how urban agriculture can be a business.”

Until recently, Growing Home said getting the right zoning designation took ropes of red tape. In September, though, the Chicago City Council passed the so-called “urban ag ordinance,” which formally recognizes the field. It expands the size of community gardens to allow for farms and commercial sales. Rhodes said these changes made the groundbreaking of Honore Street Farm much easier.

As urban farms, Honore and Wood look the part. The farms are near vacant, weed-strewn lots. There’s a viaduct nearby and broken beer glass litter the sidewalks. 

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) visited the Friday groundbreaking. In between buying vegetables at the Growing Home farm stand, he told WBEZ the farm can help boost the local economy.

Durbin said farmers markets’ increasing acceptance of food stamps is one way to help eliminate food deserts. But the federal food stamp system – known as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – has fallen short.  Retail outlets that participate in the program are supposed to offer a modicum of fresh produce and other items, but a WBEZ investigation showed these standards are low and rarely enforced.

“The only question I have in return is, Do these folks have any alternatives nearby?” Durbin said. “The dilemma is we want to make sure there’s some food available. And in many places the options are so limited that if you don’t give that mom with a baby and [the mom has] very little money a place to go for even a loaf of bread, it’s going to be very, very hard for her to get by with food stamps.”

When asked if the federal government should do a better job, Durbin said, “Of course we should. That’s not good. We’ve got to do a better job giving variety and more opportunity.”