Cabrini-Green is an urban village that borders the
wealthy Chicago neighborhoods of Old Town, Lincoln Park,
and the Gold Coast. Aiming to provide low income housing
for Chicagoans its construction began in the early 1940's.
As the years passed, the poorly maintained area became
better know as a haven for drug-dealers, murderers and
crack houses - an eventual no-go zone for local police.
A far cry from being the ultimate housing solution for
the City's needy.
In August 2000 a 10-year plan was announced. A new,
and according to many, long overdue downsizing and transformation
of the infamous public housing project would ensue.
But as the high rises are demolished and the new mixed
income community is created, resulting plots of land
sit idle, waiting to fall under the auctioneer's hammer.
This is the land the Resource Center wishes to embrace
and convert - even if only on a temporary basis. Under
Dunn's leadership the 30-year-old organization has developed
the idea of mobile inner-city market gardens. Each garden
is grown with organic ideals, titled after their first
project the 70th Street Farm and headed up by Kristine
Greiber. "Loan us an empty acre," comments Greiber,
"and in three weeks we can throw down a fence, strip
the ground, plant it out and begin to grow produce."
An ideal fit for the vacant pods of land dotted around
Cabrini-Green. The beauty of the idea? When the refurbished
land is sold to developers, the Center relocates their
people and their most precious commodity - the soil
- to a new patch. Their only request is that they should
not be asked to move amid a growing season.
The Cabrini site is the Center's fourth market garden
and the first on the City's north side. Setting up shop
at the busy and very visible intersection of Division
and North Clybourne - an area that has played host to
several homicides over the past couple months makes
a bold statement to the community and to the city -
their idea will work no matter where the location. But
amidst an atmosphere of constant tension and violence
the 70th Street's optimistic energy fuels new and hopeful
community ideas. In front of the farm lies a modest
triangle of land. This is the land that four local schools
hope to use for a joint school garden in 2003. The schools'
choice of location is perfect: the triangle is neutral
territory in the geography of Cabrini's street gangs.
None of the students will have to cross rival turf to
visit the garden. From an agricultural point of view
the garden's proximity to the farm will mean that the
Resource Center's horticultural advice will be readily
available and perhaps the team will be able to offer
gardening as an alternative to gangbanging.
The idea of small-scale urban farming is nothing new.
In England a similar plan gained momentum during the
Second World War. Areas of common land were ploughed
and families could lease a small parcel of semi-fertile
earth called an "allotment". The concept of the allotment
was to enable a family to bring to their table what
the war prevented - fresh food. Back on this side of
the pond, the organization forges its own war - a war
against unemployment - a war in the name of urban transformation.
A victory flag will only be raised when jobless and
low-income families can be offered land to practically
apply the Center's working model - producing flavorful
fruits and vegetables destined for the city's green
markets and elite restaurants. And therein lies the
irony; even in the new millennium the poor will work
the land to produce commodities for the wealthy. In
this instance however, the workers - not the landowners
will be the benefactors from their labor. It sounds
like an idealistic project but in the summer months
one acre of land will yield 18000 pounds of tomatoes.
Additionally, snow peas, scarlet beans, mâche, arugula,
turnips and carrots will flourish on either side of
the best growing season. Even in the heart of winter,
various lettuces can be grown when cold frames and floating
row coverings (warming clothes) are utilized. Add to
the equation that many crops are heirloom varietals,
that are organically created and you have some valuable
There is no shortage of buyers of 70th Streets' crop.
It may come with a few cents more attached to the invoice
but chefs around the city clamber for the fruits of
the farm's labor. Talk about a product with depth… a
multifaceted delight is on hand. These cultivated jewels
not only offer chefs a delicious, just harvested product
to enhance their menu but a tasty morsel to embellish
their press releases 'organic, sustainable, a community
project, local food system' the buzz words that fuel
food columns and fill restaurant seats.
So what is stopping the Center from securing the waste
lands of Chicago? Certainly there is no shortage of
fans or supporters. Money is the final ingredient that
is needed to make this dream a reality. Through its
concept of 70th Street Farms and the power of mobile
organics the Resource Center will be able to change
the way a city looks and thinks about food while providing
sunshine and self respect to the unwaged…
For further information on the Resource Center and its
70th Street Farm project contact Ken Dunn: 773-758-1351