Urban Growers Collective (UGC) is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization that was co-founded  by Laurell Sims and Erika Allen in the fall of 2017. Our approach is to demonstrate the development of community-based food systems and to support communities in developing systems of their own where food is grown, prepared, and distributed within the community itself. Working closely with more than 33 community partners, our goal is to build economic opportunity for youth while mitigating food insecurity and limited access to high quality, affordable, and nutritionally-dense food. Eight urban farms operate on 11 acres of land, predominantly located on Chicago’s south side. These farms are production-oriented but also offer opportunities for staff-led education, training, leadership development, and food distribution.  Each farm utilizes organic growing methods, intensive growing practices, and year-round production strategies to best maximize growing space.

While farming is the foundation upon which we grow, helping people thrive is our emphasis and the motivation for our work. UGC tackles food security through a variety of programming:

  • The Fresh Moves Mobile Market, a converted bus that functions as a mobile farmers’ market,
  • Farmers for Chicago, which encompasses our job-readiness program that trains over 200 teens annually50 formerly incarcerated adults through an 18-month job training program with Heartland Alliance, and our Incubator Farmer program which provides land and technical assistance for new Chicago farmers,
  • Our head-start preschool farm, which serves over 145 preschoolers and their families in partnership with Ounce of Prevention, and
  • A series of agricultural, small business development, and equality-building workshops.

Our core values honor shared leadership and collective decision making; racial, economic, gender, and LGBTQ+ equity; and employee well-being. We have witnessed how these values lead to thoughtful, holistic programming and yield environments that create and nourish prosperity.

Urban Growers Collective is built upon the foundation of Growing Power, a non-profit organization and land trust established in Milwaukee, WI in 1993. Growing Power operated its urban farm and educational workshops for 25 years before closing its doors in the fall of 2017. Will Allen, Growing Power’s founder and CEO, welcomed thousands of visitors annually — allowing folks to see firsthand how local food hubs can transform a community and inspiring the “Good Food Revolution.” The Growing Power Chicago branch was established in February 2002 to address the need for scalable food system models that were inclusive, impactful, and economically viable. The Chicago office changed community perceptions and City policies regarding the viability of land tenure for food production while also addressing food insecurity, urban ecology, and community development. After Growing Power closed, Chicago’s leadership team, committed to continuing the legacy of Growing Power, formed UGC to build upon our 15 years of successes in Chicago.

Our logo was inspired by the legacy of the Drinking Gourd. “Follow the Drinkin’ Gourd” was a song used by conductors of the Underground Railroad to guide enslaved people to freedom using the Big Dipper, or in African culture, the imagery of the drinking gourd. Using the North Star as their guide, enslaved men, women, and children fought their way to freedom. We hope that though our work, we honor the stories and sacrifices of our ancestors. By reclaiming activism and growing food, we give the tools to foster resilience, growth, and personal freedom. 

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