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Tomatoes in the Hood
gourmet articlesarchivetomatoes in the hood
Heirloom Jewels for Chicago's Chefs
Photograph by Jeremy Emmerson
Photograph By Jeremy Emmerson

Sustainability - the current hip word of the culinary world - has taken new significance on Chicago's South Side, with a project within the Projects.

The Resource Center, a not-for-profit organization, gave birth to the scheme that is the 70th Street Farm. Their vision, explains Ken Dunn, the Director of The Resource Center, is to take over wastelands to provide small farms for the people of Chicago. Ken's definition of "sustainable", means taking nothing more from the planet than it can provide and replenish. His view of "taking from the planet" goes beyond organisms and soil nutrients: It includes the fossil fuel used to transport these goods, as well.

Commercial farming is an increasingly mechanized industry. With this trend, how can anyone expect to earn a reasonable income from a half-acre plot of land? One way is to identify a crop that requires the minimum in machinery and the maximum in manpower. Heirloom vegetables - tomatoes in particular - are much loved in North America. Due to their delicate flesh and thin skins, they can only be harvested by hand. Additionally this artisan fruit is in steady demand in the best kitchens, and therefore maintains a strong price for the grower. Thus heirloom tomatoes are a great fit for a sustainable project.

Kristine Greiber manages what she prefers to call a market garden. Her land is surrounded by low-rise housing projects and is comprised of three plots totaling one and half acres. A pilot program, it receives funding from The Resource Center, but is almost financially self-sufficient.

Her land gives life to crops three seasons a year: beets and carrots in spring; tomatoes from the start of summer until the first frost; and green kale, Swiss chard, and arugula in the autumn, but her twenty-five varieties of tomatoes are the cash crop of the year.

Many of Chicago's chefs feel that the 70th Street Farm Project's tomatoes are the jewels of the summer. Kristine shows weekly at Chicago's Green City Market and supplies top venues such as MOD, The Dining Room at The Ritz-Carlton, and Frontera Grill/Topolobampo.

Written By: Jeremy Emmerson

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