Painful hunger reality in Chicago: is there a way to act?

“In nature’s economy the currency is not money, it is life”. Vandana Shiva

“Feeding America”, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization, released updated data about food insecurity in its work “Map the Meal Gap 2015: Overall Food Insecurity in Illinois by County in 2013”. Approximately 800,000 people in the Cook County (the Greater Chicago Food Depository’s service area) are food insecure: this is basically that they don’t really know when their next meal will be. According to their study, “poverty and hunger in America often go hand in hand, but poverty is not the ultimate determinant of food insecurity. People living above the poverty line are often at risk of hunger as well. Research demonstrates that unemployment, rather than poverty, is a better predictor of food insecurity among people living in the United States”. The highest concentration of food insecurity is located west and south of Chicago’s downtown. Good examples: Garfield Park, North Lawndale and Austin, all West Side neighborhoods. The report says that one in three residents is food insecure. Regarding at suburbs in the south, rates of food insecurity are 34% in Harvey, 39% in Robbins and 48% in Ford Heights.

Due to hunger, families struggle with enormous health issues. Statistics say hungry people’s chance of having chronic conditions is 3 times greater, of being obese as a result of poor nutrition, 2.5 times greater. For children, hunger represents 4 times the likelihood of needing professional counseling, and for teens, 5 times more possibilities of committing suicide. We need to help solving this embarrassing reality: hunger reality in America is the worst among rich nations in the world. In 2012 21% of U.S. citizens reported food insecurity, versus 8% in Great Britain, 6% in Sweden and 5% in Germany.

The power of community farms

City-Farm-Chicago_Community benefits Chicago_yosef meystel

Image courtesy of Piush Dahal at Flickr.com

If poverty and hunger go hand in hand, and unemployment is a good predictor of food insecurity, the common thread is that something is wrong in the way we grow, distribute and consume food in our society. The increasing number of people exposed to food insecurity issues is a major contradiction since many of the largest food companies in the world are American. We produce more food but people starve, farm workers are underpaid, forested landscapes disappear, and global climate is warming. A food system needs to rest on the reparation of nature and the production of healthy food accessible to the most fragile communities.

That is the case of community farming projects in urban areas, where advantages are clear: when food is grown in cities it will necessarily cost less to transport products to the stores and will also be available when distribution channels break down in times of emergency. Even in small areas, urban farms grow surprisingly amounts of products. The Worldwatch Institute reports that 15 to 20% of the world’s food is produced in cities.  

City-Farm-Chicago_yosef meystel_Community benefits Chicago

Image courtesy of Piush Dahal at Flickr.com

Five Urban Agriculture Projects in Chicago to explore and volunteer

In Chicago various agricultural projects are aware of this reality, with a strong commitment to empower vulnerable communities to grow healthy food in the city, in a sustainable way, with the added benefit of the creation of local jobs.

  • Chicago Lights Urban Farm (W. Chicago Avenue & N. Hudson Avenue, Cabrini Green). This program of the Chicago Lights Community converted a basketball court in a community garden back in 2003. Chicago Lights Urban Farm is committed to build community through access to locally and sustainably grown food, which is also a way to offer economical opportunities. There are many ways of volunteering Look at their website.
  • Grant Park “Art on the Farm” Urban Agriculture Potager (Grant Park at the intersection of E. Congress Parkway & S. Columbus Drive). Established in 2005 as a partnership between Growing Power, the Chicago Park District, and Moore Landscapes, Inc. The gardens area is near 20,000 square feet next to Buckingham Fountain and Lincoln Memorial. An amazing variety of vegetables in downtown Chicago.   
  • Wood Street Urban Farm (5814 S. Wood Street, Englewood). Near 32,000 square feet in Englewood, the Wood Street Urban Farm is the product of a partnership between Teamwork Englewood and Growing Home. Growing Home offers job training for homeless and low-income individuals, through experiential learning opportunities.
  • Su Casa Market Garden (51st Street & S. Laflin Street, West Englewood). This urban garden located in the south side of Chicago is supervised by a partnership between Su Casa Catholic Worker and Growing Home. Much of the products are served and prepared at the Catholic Worker’s soup kitchen and food pantry, when members and visitors can volunteer.
  • Rooftop Farm at McCormick Place (West 2301 S. Lake Shore Drive, South Loop). Situated on top of McCormick Place, this garden takes up 20,000 square feet, the largest farm-to-fork rooftop garden in the Midwest. The garden produces up to 8,000 lbs. per season. Maintenance of the garden is by the Chicago Botanic Garden.
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