GLENCOE, Ill. (July 18, 2012) – The Chicago Botanic Garden’s Windy City Harvest urban agriculture program has partnered with Levy Restaurants and Midwest Foods to provide fresh produce and tilapia for the Levy Restaurant’s Stadium Club at U.S. Cellular Field.
The Windy City Harvest (WCH) program has built a 1.5-acre organic vegetable garden on what was formerly a gravel parking lot, now licensed from Cook County as an intensive production zone. After laying landscape fabric as a barrier, building cedar-sided beds, and spreading 1200 cubic yards of compost, a crew composed of young graduates of the Cook County Boot Camp gardening program, as well as current students from the WCH certificate program, will produce 15,000 pounds of vegetables during the first growing season. Produce will include tomatoes, red and green peppers, summer squash, cucumbers, lettuce, radish, herbs, onions, leek, fennel, beets and purple, yellow and orange carrots. Organically grown tilapia will be harvested from the aquaponics operations at WCH and Boot Camp sites.
“The new location is the largest garden we have created in the four years since our program began,” said Angela Mason, director of community gardening for the Garden. “To turn an old song on its head, we’ve paved a parking lot and put up paradise,” she said. “This is also the first time we have provided fresh vegetables and fish for a sports arena,” she said.
The partnership will provide transitional jobs for eight months for young men who have completed the four-month- in-residence Cook County Boot Camp program, and for students and graduates of the WCH certificate program in Sustainable Horticulture and Urban Agriculture.
Through their Farm to Fork program, Levy partners with local farmers, artisans and purveyors to provide locally sourced produce and products for their restaurant operations. “There is nothing better than fresh picked produce,” said Executive Chef Olegario Soto of Levy Restaurants at U.S. Cellular Field. “Using the freshest seasonal ingredients helps us create the best food for our guests. Partnering with the Chicago Botanic Garden is a wonderful opportunity for us and we are thrilled to support such a wonderful program.”
“We are honored to be working with the Garden and Levy to create jobs and opportunities through agriculture and gardening,” said Mary Ann Fitzgerald, president and CEO of Midwest Foods. As a major supplier of sustainably grown produce to Chicago’s institutional food service and fine restaurant community, Midwest Foods has chosen to take a leadership role in promoting the economic development power of locally grown foods.
Windy City Harvest began as a pilot program in 2007 and offers an advanced continuing education certificate that is the first of its kind approved by the Illinois Community College Board. The program has graduated 36 students to date, of whom 85 percent are employed seasonally, part-time or full-time in Chicago’s fast-growing urban agriculture and local food system industry.
In 2009, the Garden partnered with Cook County Sheriff’s Boot Camp to create a one-acre organic vegetable garden within the compound. Inmates work in the on-site garden and adjoining compost area, and now in a 5,000 gallon aquaculture operation in one of the Boot Camp’s buildings.
The City of Chicago’s Department of Family and Support Services and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity provide funding for the jobs program, giving inmates and WCH graduates an opportunity to work in the emerging green jobs sector.