What’s Growing On, Summer 2019

Summer Time Means…

Summer time means hot and humid days in the city. It means farm-fresh vegetables at your local farmers markets and 7 (yes, SEVEN!) new baby goats at our South Chicago farm.

Starting today, summer time also means the release of our quarterly newsletter.

We hope you enjoy the first installment of “What’s Growing On?”

Grounds for Peace: Lot Beautification and Healing

On July 2, 2019, the City of Chicago announced the Grounds for Peace program in partnership with Urban Growers Collective and Heartland Alliance. Grounds for Peace is a vacant lot greening pilot program in 2019 to beautify approximately 50 city-owned residential vacant lots. The 2019 pilot will beautify vacant properties in three communities – North Lawndale, Woodlawn and Englewood.

Grounds for peace is inspired by successful programs in other cities with urban gun violence and large concentrations of vacant property, and is designed to engage community members in reclaiming spaces that have contributed to violence. Research has found that improving the appearance of vacant lots through greening can not only reduce violent crime in the area but also create positive impacts on a wide range of other outcomes, including mental health and broader community wellness.

Using crime data, the University of Chicago and Department of Planning and development identified high impact vacant lots. A full list of sites that will be worked on are available on the Grounds for Peace Website. UGC coordinates with the Department of Streets and Sanitation to clear the lots of debris and overgrowth. At this point, UGC and Heartland Alliance schedule READI (Rapid Employment and Development Initiative) Chicago Crews to beautify the lots. Approximately 50 READI Chicago participants will participate in the program.

Under UGC’s guidance, READI Chicago crews prepare the lots with biosolid compost from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago. READI crews then landscape the lots with sunflowers and sod. After lots are landscaped, new fences and other infrastructure are installed to further beautify the space. Through this process, READI crews develop skills in landscaping, planting, and property maintenance.

“Today, we’re bringing life and opportunities back into community spaces that have been left empty for decades.” —Mayor Lightfoot

As part of the $250,000 greening pilot, Urban Growers Collective will provide substantive landscape training, supervision and expertise on urban land interventions. “Today, we’re bringing life and opportunities back into community spaces that have been left empty for decades,” said Mayor Lightfoot. “Transforming our vacant lots into beautiful, open green spaces not only fosters safer streets and stronger communities but also contributes to a cleaner and healthier Chicago.”

Program Spotlight: Farmers for Chicago Adult Jobs Training – READI Chicago

In partnership with Heartland Alliance, UChicago Urban Labs, and the City of Chicago, Urban Growers Collective is one of several partner job-placement sites for adult African American and Latino men employed through Heartland Alliance’s 24-month job-training program, READI (Rapid Employment and Development Initiative) Chicago.

READI Chicago is an innovative response to gun violence in Chicago. The program connects people most highly impacted by gun violence to paid transitional jobs, cognitive behavioral therapy, and wrap-around support services to help them create a viable path for a different future, and to help reduce violence in the city’s most impacted neighborhoods.

READI Chicago is a two-year engagement – 18 months of a paid transitional job, cognitive behavioral therapy and support services, plus an additional six months of follow-up case management and coaching support to help participants successfully transition to unsubsidized employment.

READI Spotlight:

Mike McCann said he’s been working for READI Chicago-Greater Englewood for the last 16 months. He wasn’t called. He didn’t apply. He was chosen. “I never knew that cleaning up trash would help me in the future. I met important people. I know how to resolve situations I get into. I know how to turn the other cheek. I know how to lead,” McCann said. “Me and my men right now — we’ve got businesses. We’re out here today and we’re cleaning up the lots. We’ve got 50 more this summer. We’re gonna give back. We’re gonna do what we’ve got to do and work hard.”

Educare, Youth Corps, and Baby Goats

Here at Urban Growers Collective, we absolutely love our kids. That is why we wanted to share some updates about our youth programming, new additions to our goat herd, and some of their adorable pictures. Enjoy!

Ounce of Prevention Fund at Educare

Educare Chicago is a high-quality Early Head Start and Head Start program in Chicago’s Grand Boulevard community. Urban Growers Collective manages the gardens at Educare, in partnership with the Ounce of Prevention Fund.

At Educare, we know that nature is the best classroom. Being outside and observing the natural environment awakens our senses and reminds us to look around and explore. Children are inherently more curious, but we have found that intentionally creating spaces that activate curiosity, such as our garden, help to refine this skill. The sooner we can help children see the tangible elements of education in the real world, the better they understand that the lessons they learn in a traditional classroom have real meaning.

Having the vegetable garden at Educare for the last five years has opened an entire world to the children we serve by giving them a space to explore nature — from befriending bugs to examining patterns on leaves to learning the importance of rain — all things that exist in the city in which they live, but because as it is a built environment, it is often hard for them to explore fully.

While the vegetable garden provides a structured space with an abundance of learning opportunities, we wanted to incorporate a natural play space and sensory garden into the existing farm space.

Last year when we put the farm to bed, and our children played for hours shoveling soil and feeling the soil fall through their hands. Having a space within the garden where children can climb, build with stones, create natural instruments, feel soil and sand, as well as touch and smell plants to engage their senses is a tremendous learning asset at our facility.

More importantly, it allows students who are overwhelmed with the structure of the garden a safe space to still be with their classmates, but offer some respite to calm down and refocus. This space compliments our learning environment and further demonstrate the wonders of nature.

Youth Corps

UGC engaged over 140 teens this summer through our Youth Corps Programming. During our summer session, we had a 92% program completion rate across all of our program sites. This summer over $71,000 in stipends were distributed to teens.

Our farms serve as a safe space for teens to explore their interests, work collectively, share their talents and learn from one another. During their time spent on the farms, youth expand their understanding of many aspects of urban farming and community food system development.

Youth Corps programming occurred on four of our sites this summer. At Grant Park, teens maintained and harvested the site and gave tours to the public in the afternoons. At South Chicago, teens maintained the community garden space and harvested produce to sell at farmers markets and on the Fresh Moves Mobile Market.

Bridgeport teens activated a new space Schulze & Burch Biscuit Company. At Roosevelt Square, teens started a weekly farm stand and earned an average of $100 each market.

Teens also went on a variety of field trips. They toured all of our Youth Corps sites and met teens in other programs. They also had a chance to get off the farm and explore Chicago attractions. For example, Roosevelt & Bridgeport programs went to Eleanor Boathouse for an intro to rowing class. Youth Corps also had a chance to visit local colleges and universities to explore options for post-secondary education.

Baby Goats

This summer, our goats had 7 new additions to their herd. Our goats are housed at our main farm in South Chicago. The original heard of 2 has grown to 17 with the new kids, who have yet to be named.

Do you want to get to know our goats a little bit better? Join us on Saturday September 28th from 10am-11am for a goat yoga class! If you can’t make it to our goat yoga session, consider coming on a farm tour or for volunteer hours on Saturdays.

This summer, UGC has hosted over 125 volunteers!

Urban Growers Collective Updates — Evaluation Strategies

In May of 2019, we updated our evaluation strategies. Through this process, we sought input and insight from key stakeholders and reviewed the research base on the outcomes and impact of urban agriculture.

We are implementing our updated evaluation plan starting in 2019. While our organization has always used data to inform our work, this process helped to formalize our Theory of Change and our priority outcomes. Our work and the communities in which we work are complex and face many barriers. This process helped us to distill the key shifts and changes that we aim to influence.

Our organization is guided by our Theory of Change that outlines the linkages between our activities, initiatives and programs, and the short-term outcomes and desired longterm impact that they are designed to influence.

These updated strategies are a powerful tool that will help us communicate our work more effectively. The framework of data collection targets metrics that are important to us, to you, and to our community members. Moreover, using this framework, we can aggregate results for on-going reviews. This will allow us to have continuing conversations about improving our programming and organization to best achieve our mission.