Our Story

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.

We operate eight urban farms 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.

OUR PROGRAMMING

 

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.

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.

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The Fresh Moves Mobile Market

Our Fresh Moves Mobile Market is bus that’s been transformed into a mobile farmers’ market. This “produce aisle on wheels” has 15 weekly stops on Chicago’s South and West Sides, providing folks with increased access to fresh, nutritious, culturally-affirming foods. We accept cash, card, Link/SNAP, and Illinois Senior Farmers’ Market checks.

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Farmers for Chicago

  • Teen job training allows youth on Chicago’s South and West sides to develop skills that will help them succeed in school, work, and life
  • Adult job training provides adults who are hard to employ or at high risk for gun violence with opportunities to gain hands-on work experience
  • Farmer incubation aids BIPOC beginner farmers in developing and growing their own agribusinesses
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Educare Head-start Preschool Farm

Our head-start preschool farm serves over 145 preschoolers and their families in partnership with Ounce of Prevention. Students engage in age appropriate garden activities, including planning, tending to, and harvesting their own garden. Harvests from a larger on-site farm are distributed to students’ families.

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Workshops and Trainings

Led by staff and industry experts, Urban Growers Collective hosts workshops and trainings on a variety of topics, including urban agriculture, small business development, Chicago’s food system, herbalism and immunity, and beekeeping. Due to Covid-19, our winter workshops are being held remotely.

To learn more about our programming, click the image below to read our 2020 Program Report.

OUR HISTORY

 

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.