Friday, August 23, 2013

A Story of One City Farm

Even Cabrini-Green isn't immune to the idea of transformation.  The most notorious public housing of my generation began demolition over 13 years ago.  A small portion of it has now evolved into an urban farm.

1204 N. Clybourn as of August 2013

Courtesy Chicago Sun-Times, prior to demolition in the late 90's

Courtesy The Rap Dictionary

At one point over 15,000 people called this area home.  High rises, low rises and row houses meant to corral like low-income citizens, turned into a place where Thelma Ruffin, a Cabrini-Green resident who ran a Local Advisory Council said, "You see kids running around the buildings all the time, but they don`t have anywhere to go because they don`t have any programs for them."  The confluence of little to no government funding for police or programs and its proximity to very affluent neighbors a couple blocks over made the area a lucrative area for drug sales.  Intense competition ensued turning the housing project into a war zone of drugs and violence.

Imagine, the only place you know is more comfortable than the one that you don't know.  Cabrini-green residents were relocated to mixed-income neighborhoods throughout the city; scattered to the wind like seeds intended by housing officials to find their way to a grow a new generation in "better" circumstances.  Depending on who you ask, that has been debatable.

On a lot near where people once threw trash into part of a complex adjacent to the Chicago Board of Education`s Ferguson Child-Parent Center on 1215 N. Clybourn Ave.,  I now marvel at it's beauty and its' productiveness thanks to Chicago Lights Urban Farm.

Never forgetting so many were displaced from their homes, regardless of the conditions, the farm was created to give way to new economic opportunities.   Through nutritional education and work-force training, it now provides a safe haven for children to learn about urban farming. Where competition for turf once resulted in gang wars, now the competition is about getting a slot to participate in the work-force training program.

Not to be minimized, the farm provides access to healthy food in a place that has been known to be a food desert.  The farm participates in CSA's, farmer's markets and sources local restaurants.  According to a recent article in the Chicago Sun-Times, 253,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables have been grown this year on 15 acres of urban farms in the city of Chicago alone.

Packing up for Farmer's Market

While I am a visitor today, I know this Urban Farm too shall transform yet again.  You see, I once lived not to far from here.  Chicago does not standstill. 

In February, 2013, the Fourth Presbyterian Church behind the Chicago Light project sought help to fund the property.  With no such suitor to be found, the board accepted an offer from the Chicago Housing Authority to buy the property with a lease-back option for free.  What we do know, is they will continue operating until May 2015 until which time they may need to find an alternate site to continue their mission.  It is unknown, at the time of this writing, the future plans the Chicago Housing Authority has for the property.

My thanks to the volunteers at the farm who allowed me to take pictures in their fields on this fine August day.

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