UPTOWN — The soil-filled wooden plots atop Weiss Memorial Hospital's parking garage appear barren, and gardening equipment and supplies is strewn throughout the rooftop.
But seeds are sown and the scene will look a lot cleaner and greener in a month's time, according to William Poole, a Rogers Park resident and "first generation city boy" with rural Indiana farming roots who tends the space.
Pool, 30, is co-founder of Loud Grade Produce Squad, an Uptown-based nonprofit that runs community gardens, educates folks about sustainable development and offers job-training and after school programs in Uptown and other Chicago communities.
Their Uptown operation features honey bees, a chicken coop for eggs, and an array of vegetables. The garden has a wide range of produce, with Uptown "being a community of immigrants," Pool said.
"The Ethiopians want arugula — we can't grow enough arugula," Pool said.
Pool and Loud co-founder Jared Schenkier are waiting to hear about the status of a $20,000 Seeds of Change grant they applied for that would allow them to plant fruit trees in their North Lawndale community garden, Bay Bay's Peace Garden.
The grant competition allows supporters to vote for that they think are the most worthy projects online, and Monday is the last day to vote.
Pool's parents moved from rural Indiana to the Chicago area as students and job seekers, and he was raised between north suburban Evanston and Rogers Park.
He said he sees agriculture and access to healthy food as "the crux of empowerment and disempowerment."
"Who has access to good food and why?" he asked, standing on the garage roof one sunny day in April. "It's no secret where the food deserts are."
The North Lawndale community on the city's West Side is one of those not-so-secret food desserts — where there are more fast food joints peddling high-fat, high-calorie foods than grocery stores offering healthier options.
North Lawndale has one of the highest rates of diabetes in the city.
"When people talk about all of the issues related to food deserts these days, [North Lawndale] is emblematic of that," Schenkier said.
If Loud Grade get the grant, most of it would go toward Bay Bay's Peace Garden at South Homan Avenue and West 16th Street.
Loud Grade's grant page said it would invest in large fruit trees, expand its flock of hens and chickens from 10 to 50 and offer internships to residents interested in learning agricultural skills.
Schenkier, a Humboldt Park resident, would love to grow "a small orchard in the city," and said the amount of fruit a tree can yield in an annual harvest is "tremendous."
Weiss, 4646 N. Marine Dr., asked Schenkier and Pool to develop their garden about five years ago as a way to engage the community, create a green space on the hospital campus and provide locals the chance to peruse organically grown, fresh produce at Weiss' Uptown Farmer's Market.
Schenkier was active in other gardening initiatives on the North Side, and caught the eye of former Ald. Helen Shiller (46th) who Schenkier said recommended him to Weiss. He said he and Pool had partnered on other initiatives, including a community soccer club and painting business but that he knew his friend "was also into agriculture."
"So obviously he was the first person I thought of," Schenkier said, and Loud Grade "kind of just grew from there" in 2009.
"Loud" happens to be slang for marijuana, which was recently approved for a medicinal pilot program in Illinois.
As Pool explained, "loud means good quality."
"It was important that we had a name that was relatable to people and right away would make them pay attention," said Pool. "It's not a secret, but we don't make a big deal about it. We don't tell people who don't know because we feel we're not really about trying to teach code, we're not trying to educate 'Susie the soccer mom' about what it means."