Press Release: Urban Growers Collective Partners with Green Era to Provide Educational Programs and Sustainable Food Access on the South Side at Nine-Acre Renewable Energy and Urban Farming Campus

FOR RELEASE August 7, 2020 at 5 a.m.

Media Contact:
Alyssa Krueger/Nick Harkin
Carol Fox and Associates

Auburn-Gresham Redevelopment Project Estimated to Create More Than 40 Green Jobs, Teach STEM Curriculum to Youth and Provide Nutritional Resources to the Community

CHICAGO – Urban Growers Collective today announced its partnership with Green Era Education to implement community engagement programs and cultivate a seven-acre urban farm as part of the nine-acre Green Era Renewable Energy and Urban Farming Campus. The $32 million redevelopment project of a vacant brownfield site in Auburn-Gresham (at the northwest corner of 83rd and Wallace St.) will serve the local community through a green sustainability project that yields long-term ecomonic growth. Through this partnership, Urban Growers Collective will provide ongoing holistic benefits and nutritional food access for residents facing systemic food apartheid patterns on the city’s South and West Sides, continuing to expand the agricultural non-profit’s city-wide impact and pursue its mission to diminish systemic racism, build resilience and heal communities through urban agriculture.

The Green Era Renewable Energy and Urban Farming Campus houses a self-sustainable anaerobic digester to produce compost and renewable energy, as well as community garden plots, native plant habitats, butterfly gardens and flowers, a produce stand and a hands-on educational facility to introduce youth to urban farming. The on-site urban farm will provide ongoing benefits to neighboring residents with year-round production of organic produce to be sold at a low cost, STEM youth education and compost for farmers throughout the city.  Construction on the vacant site is slated for completion in spring of 2022 and will create hundreds of construction and permanent jobs for the community, creating an economic boost with the creation of initial 240 construction jobs and 47 permanent jobs.

The campus will include 13,000 square-feet of greenhouse space, expected to grow 14,000 – 26,000+ pounds of organic produce per year.  The thousands of pounds of fresh produce grown on the site, including kale, collard greens, eggplant, tomatoes and more, will be sold at the on-site produce stand or distributed to other “food desert” areas of the city via Urban Growers Collective’s Fresh Moves Mobile Market, a renovated CTA bus that operates as a mobile farmers market to close the food access gap. The “grocery store on wheels” will make weekly stops at South and West Side public schools and community and health centers including Howard Brown Health Center, King Health, Heartland Alliance and a list of others.

“Seeing this profound vision come to life is an urban farmer’s dream. The ways this all-encompassing project meets the socio-ecomonic needs of the South Side and enables a disruption of systemic patterns are immeasurable,” said Co-CEO of Urban Growers Collective and Co-Founder of Green Era Erika Allen. “This is a welcoming project that we hope encourages the community to come together to not only build resilience on the South Side of Chicago, but to build friendships and learn about health and food access.”

Funding is provided in part from a $2 million Rebuild Illinois grant and $1 million loan from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, supported through the State and Federal New Market Tax Credits programs, including commitments from several local funding partners: IFF, Reinvestment Fund, Chicago Community Loan Fund, the MacArthur Foundation’s Benefit Chicago, and many others. 

“By investing in communities of color with a focus on key industries including agribusiness, renewable energy, ag tech and manufacturing, we are growing the jobs of the future in the lcommunity,” said Michael Negron, Acting Director of the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO).  “The timing of this project could not be better to promote an equitable recovery in a community that has been disproportionately hit hard by the health and economic effects of COVID-19 and for too long has experienced disinvestment.”  

The campus seeks to combat inequities faced by Chicago’s South and West Side communities by increasing Auburn-Gresham residents’ access to nutritionally dense produce and increasing the citywide ability for residents to grow their own food as a means of self-sustainability and resilience. Urban Growers Collective is working hand-in-hand with the Greater Auburn-Gresham Development Corporation to welcome residents to engage with the urban farming campus, as well as create programs that integrate resources of the new project.

“My family has lived in Auburn-Gresham for nearly sixty years and experienced all of its economic fluctuations first-hand,” said Chief Executive Officer Greater Auburn-Gresham Development Corporation Carlos Nelson. “I am thankful for Urban Growers Collective and Green Era’s promising investment in Auburn-Gresham and can’t wait to see how this ever-giving project will uplift the community as a whole and improve the quality of life for all of my neighbors.”  

In partnership with Chicago Public Schools, including Leo High School and Simeon High School, Green Era will offer classes to provide instruction the STEM curriculum and teach students the importance of environmentally conscious urban farming, vermicomposting, urban gardening planning, seeding and entrepreneurial topics. The partnership and its affiliates will promote youth education and college internship opportunities through farming, STEM technology and green engineering career, with classes held at the on-site education facility.  

The self-sustainable anaerobic digester housed on the campus will produce economic stability, along with renewable energy and nutrient-rich compost by composting food waste. Green Era has committed to hiring locally and from disadvantaged communities at all skill levels with the project creating opportunity for construction and permanent jobs, as well as hundreds of contracting opportunities, laying the foundation for lasting economic growth in Auburn-Gresham. In partnership with Heartland Alliance, Urban Growers Collective will expand its READI program for formerly encarcerated men to pursue a career path to this site as well.

Through a natural, biological process, the digester breaks down food waste to create nutrient-rich compost which is used as soil to grow organic produce. The compost will be utilized as a resource to support the growth of Chicago’s farmers, community gardens, and social enterprises. As an alternative to landfills, food waste and other vegetation is brought into the fully-enclosed processing facility where it is broken down by natural microorganisms. The process also produces biogas which is collected and utilized for energy. Urban Growers Collective will partner with local restaurants and factories to collect composting materials. Approximately 85,000 tons of organic waste is to be recycled through a natural, biological process, offsetting approximately 42,500 of CO2 per year.

Urban Growers Collective

Urban Growers Collective (UGC) is a leader in urban agriculture and food policy in Chicago, is a non-profit organization with educational programs, partnerships and an overarching mission to positively influence food-deprived neighborhoods in Chicago’s South and West Side communities.

Working closely with more than 33 like-minded community partners, UGC’s, mission is to build economic opportunity and mitigate food insecurity and limited access to high quality, affordable and nutritionally dense food. Seven urban farms operate on 11-acres of land predominantly located on Chicago’s South Side. For more information,

About Green Era Sustainability

Green Era Sustainability, LLC is the developer of the Green Era Renewable Energy and Urban Farming Campus and is responsible for the financing and operations of the redevelopment project on Chicago’s South Side. Green Era’s mission is to create sustainable communities by composting food waste, producing renewable energy and creating nutrient rich soil to support local food production. The Green Era model also creates measurable economic benefits and a profound social impact through the creation of jobs and green economic development in under-invested communities. 

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