WASHINGTON PARK — Perry Street Farm has gone uncultivated so far this year, which would have potentially been its first full growing season, with no farmer currently working at the nearly two-acre plot.
Ken Dunn, a Hyde Parker who has started five urban farms, including City Farm at Division Street and Clybourn Avenue, said he had hoped to work the land this season but was forced to cut ties with Perry Street Farm after his lease wasn't renewed by the city last fall.
“We’re always in favor of bringing new people into urban agriculture, we don’t mind starting a program for others to carry on,” Dunn said of the farm at 57th Street and Perry Avenue.
It remains unclear who will now work the land that was expected to produce 50,000 pounds of produce annually and provide five full-time jobs at $30,000 a year with benefits Dunn had hoped to provide this year.
Dunn was brought in to Washington Park in 2011 to build the farm with the expectation that operations would be handed off to the Washington Park Consortium once complete.
Members of the Washington Park Consortium’s board of directors declined to comment and referred questions to Ald. Willie Cochran’s office.
Cochran was not immediately available to comment.
Dunn declined to say why he was leaving the farm without a successor in place, but said there was no resentment over the split. He said he’s now focused on finding work for the two full-time farmhands from Washington Park that were working the plot and is searching for a new project to start.
With most of the planting season over, Perry Street Farm is likely to grow only dandelions this year.
“We’ve got plants that are almost a foot tall in some of our other growing spaces,” Dunn said. “To get 10 crops per year, you need to start early.”
The farm had only a partial growing season in 2013 while planting beds were being finished. Still, the farm produced about 3,000 pounds of produce, Dunn said.
He said about two-thirds of 2013’s harvest was sold to five-star restaurants across the city and the rest was donated to food pantries and community organizations.
Dunn said it took three years to get to the point where land that was once a gravel lot could produce about $250,000 in produce each year.
The project was started in 2011 through a $55,000 grant from LISC’s New Communities Program and a $250,000 commitment from the city of Chicago, which provided the land, fences and some site prep work.
Dunn said just trucking the soil and mulch in and spreading it across the lot was projected to cost $200,000, but came in under budget thanks to the help of volunteers and some materials from his other farms and the Resource Center, his business that provides recycling in Hyde Park and other South Side neighborhoods.
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