GLENCOE, IL (July 15, 2013) - The Chicago Botanic Garden’s Green Youth Farm (GYF) is celebrating its tenth anniversary. The program began in 2003 on a one-acre plot in the Lake County Greenbelt Forest Preserve and has added five sites. Two are in Chicago food desert communities: in Lawndale on the west side and in Washington Park on the south side, which is also home to a junior Green Youth Farm operating out of the Washington Park Field House. Another group of Green Youth Farm teens maintains the Thompson Center planters on Randolph Street in downtown Chicago. Finally, an Urban Garden Lab program, created in partnership with After School Matters (ASM), will train and employ fifteen teens this summer in ASM’s headquarter building at 66 East Randolph Street. All told, over ten years, the Green Youth Farm program has mentored and employed 522 students, inspired many green career choices, and has sold 81,000 pounds of produce, including a large portion through Women, Infants and Children centers.
This year, 96 students from 20 Chicago-area junior high schools and high schools will work at the farm locations growing organic produce. They will participate in team-building exercises, learn about local food systems, sell produce at local farmers’ markets, engage in art workshops, and go on field trips to area organic farm locations. Students at the Urban Garden Lab will design a rooftop garden intended for completion on the roof terrace at 66 East Randolph, in 2014.
A University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Pathways Project study, supported by the William T. Grant Foundation, collected data from a spectrum of youth-development programs nationally, and found that the Garden’s Green Youth Farm program excels in providing high quality youth-development skills, developing life and career skills, and strengthening family dynamics. The Pathways Project studies positive youth development in order to better understand how young people develop skills in youth programs and how these skills transfer to other parts of their lives. “This is a proven youth leadership program that builds confidence, teamwork, problem-solving skills, knowledge of business, and a sense of produce and ownership in students ages 12-18,” said Eliza Fournier, program manager.
On each farm students grow organic produce, including lettuce, spinach, broccoli, raspberries, tomatoes, and a wide selection of herbs and flowers. Students begin planting in mid-May after school and on weekends, and start their summer schedule in mid-June. Students work after school and on weekends through October and are paid a stipend for their efforts. Participants develop a business and marketing plan, sell produce at local farmers’ markets and special events markets, and manage weekly farm stands at the farms—all as part of a motivated team dedicated to sustainable food systems and healthy eating. “While weeding, watering, planting, and harvesting, they learn about being a part of a team. They take pride in shaping the farms from the ground up,” Fournier said.
Returning students often are selected as peer and crew leaders. Last year, the three Green Youth Farms (GYF) harvested, sold, or donated 24,000 pounds of produce—the most grown in the program’s history. Of that total, 75 percent fed 30,000 residents from low-income communities, and 70 percent of customers overall purchased affordable produce using state and federal benefits like SNAP or USDA Woman, Infant and Children (WIC) and senior coupons; for the first time, produce was sold at six Chicago Housing Authority buildings; and
34 healthy meal preparation sessions for 367 low-income parents were held at WIC centers.
Green Youth Farm participants are also engaged in community-building activities outside of the farms. To commemorate their peers who have died from gun violence, GYF students planted 30 fruit trees along the perimeter of the Washington Park garden. This year, as they did last year, North Lawndale students will volunteer at the African Heritage Garden and the Lawndale Christian Health Center, which provides kitchen space for weekly meal preparation. Junior Green Youth farmers will volunteers at the Bronzeville Community Garden.
Education about conventional and local/organic food systems is a main component of the Green Youth Farm program. Led by staff, crews from the farms take turns preparing three-course lunches for colleagues and prepare weekly snacks with food harvested from the gardens, powered by a solar oven, hand-cranked blenders, and food processors. Students also learn about vermicomposting (composting with worms) and working with pollinators: beehives are located at the Washington Park, Lawndale, and North Chicago sites, and Green Youth Farm honey is a popular product.
Students also hone their marketing and customer-service skills by selling produce weekly at local farmers’ markets, and to Sodexo, which operates the Garden Café at the Chicago Botanic Garden. The public can purchase food from the farms at these markets (held rain or shine):
- Lawndale Farm Stand: Adjacent to Green Tomato Café, Wednesdays, July 10, through October 2. 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.
- Washington Park Farm Stand: Inside Washington Park Green Youth Farm. Wednesdays, July 10 through October 2, 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.
- North Chicago/Waukegan Farm Stand: Wednesdays in the Greenbelt Cultural Center’s parking lot. Wednesdays, July 10 through October 2. 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.
- North Chicago/Waukegan Farm Stand (Saturdays): Inside the Greenbelt Forest Preserve. Saturdays, September 7 through October 5, 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.
- Chicago Botanic Garden Farmers’ Market: First and third Sundays of the month, May through October, 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Green Youth Farm is a program of the Chicago Botanic Garden in collaboration with Chicago Park District, Preservation Foundation of the Lake County Forest Preserves, Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago, and After School Matters.
A short video about the program can be seen at:
Major support for Green Youth Farm is provided by After School Matters, The J.R. Albert Foundation, The Bank of America Charitable Foundation, BMO Harris Bank, Helen V. Froehlich Foundation, Elizabeth Morse Genius Charitable Trust, The Grainger Foundation, Leo S. Guthman Fund, HSBC, Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, ITW, JPMorgan Chase Foundation, Midwest Foods, Prince Charitable Trusts, Spear Family Charitable Fund, State Farm Youth Advisory Board, Steans Family Foundation, Walgreens, and the Woman’s Board of the Chicago Horticultural Society.
Additional support is provided by anonymous donors, Alvin H. Baum Family Fund, The Brinson Foundation, Chicago Department of Family and Support Services, George and Amanda Hanley Foundation, Kaplan Foundation Fund/Carol and Ed Kaplan, Kemper Educational and Charitable Fund, Lake Forest Garden Club, Walter S. Mander Foundation, Northern Trust Charitable Trust, Sheridan Foundation, and the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Also contributing are the Albers/Kuhn Family Foundation, Laurance Armour Memorial Trust at the Chicago Community Trust, Benefit Magic, LLC., Charter One Foundation, ComEd, Tom E. Dailey Foundation, Fields BMW, First Bank of Highland Park Foundation, Walter and Karla Goldschmidt Foundation, Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day, Northfielders Garden Club, North Shore Garden Club, NorthShore University HealthSystem, and six individual donors.