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Urban Farming Program Gets Federal Grant to Train Growers

By Wendell Hutson | November 22, 2013 8:49am
 The tomatillos and tomatoes sold at the Back of the Yards Farmers Market were grown just steps away at The Plant's outdoor farm.
The tomatillos and tomatoes sold at the Back of the Yards Farmers Market were grown just steps away at The Plant's outdoor farm.
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DNAinfo/Casey Cora

CHICAGO — Mayor Rahm Emanuel is expected to announce Friday that the Growing Power's Farmers for Chicago program received a $300,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that will allow the nonprofit to train more urban farmers.

"This is a three-year grant we matched that we will use to train farmers to start farms in underserved neighborhoods on the South and West sides," said Erika Allen, executive director of Growing Power. "I anticipate farms being developed in Englewood and the Roseland area."

Specifically, Allen said the grant would help farmers pay for startup costs, developing a business plan and infrastructure.

She added that her organization will also help provide urban growers with the skills necessary to succeed at food commerce, including growing and packaging fruits and vegetables, and distributing them to up to 20 retailers, including farmer’s markets, local corner stores, grocery chains and restaurants.

The mayor said developing farms in food desert neighborhoods is necessary to help residents make healthier eating choices.

“Every Chicagoan should have access to healthy food. Too many of our citizens feel the consequences of poor nutrition on a daily basis because fresh produce is not available in their neighborhood," Emanuel said in a statement.

"Growing Power’s Farmers For Chicago Program works not only to bring locally grown fruits and vegetables to the shelves of our neighborhood store, but also to teach the skills to grow those fruits and vegetables in our own backyards."

Allen said the locally grown produce from Growing Power is now available at Walgreens stores in 10 food desert communities such as Englewood. Produce sold includes radishes, mustard greens, cabbage, arugula, turnips, turnip greens and beets.

A Whole Foods store is planned in Englewood by 2016, and Allen said she would like to see farm items sold at the store.

"It would be great for Whole Foods to carry vegetables grown from farmers at their Englewood store. That could serve as an extra magnet to get people to shop in Englewood," she said.

Through the program, 50 new farmers will to receive direct training and farm incubation support; 150 farmers will benefit from shared infrastructure support; 1,500 individuals will receive training and educational opportunities in urban agriculture via workshops offered at the Iron Street Urban Farm at 3333 S. Iron St.; 900 youths will receive work experience in urban agriculture; and 30 commercial retailers and independent corner store owners will increase the availability of fresh food in their businesses.