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Perry Street Farm Could Get New Farmer by End of May, City Says

By Sam Cholke | May 9, 2014 8:27am
 Emmanuel Pratt of the Sweetwater Foundation will take over Perry Street Farm after Ken Dunn's unexplained ouster by the city.
Perry Street Farm
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HYDE PARK — Perry Street Farm may still get a few crops planted during its first full growing season as the city finalizes a new lease with Emmanuel Pratt of the Sweetwater Foundation, officials said Thursday.

“In the first year, we’re going to try to get life going again,” Pratt said.

The nearly two-acre farm at 57th Street and Perry Avenue has grown little more than weeds during its first full growing season this year after three years of development by Ken Dunn of the Resource Center.

In the fall, the city declined to extend Dunn’s three-year lease into the current growing season.

On Thursday, a spokesman for the city’s Department of Housing and Economic Development said a five-year lease for Pratt to take over the farm would be submitted to City Council for approval on May 28.

“It’s good news for the community,” said Dunn, who previously said he would have liked to continue for another season at the farm.

The slow transition means much of the early growing season has been lost.

Ald. Willie Cochran (20th) said “bureaucratic matters” slowed the process down, but he was working to get Pratt on the farm as quickly as possible.

He said he was unhappy with how Dunn — a Hyde Parker who has started five urban farms, including City Farm at Division Street and Clybourn Avenue — ran Perry Street Farm and chose to search for a new farmer when the lease ended in the fall.

"He had his chance and failed," Cochran said. "Three-and-a-half years and it's still not completed.”

Cochran said he didn’t like Dunn’s use of a mechanical equipment on the farm, wanted more accountability around hiring and wanted to be consulted about composting.

"He was dumping horse manure in the neighborhood," Cochran said. "The horse manure made it impossible for people to even go out on their front porches."

Dunn denied Cochran's claim that he did not live up to his agreement with the city.

"We operated within the terms of the agreement, but it's a past deal and we hope our record is cleared one day," Dunn said. "I'm sorry Willie [Cochran] wasn't pleased with our work, but we hope to have other projects elsewhere and we hope to continue to work on other projects in the future, including this one.”

A spokesman for the city’s Department of Planning and Development said it was made aware of the alderman’s concerns in November, but did not investigate before the contract ended.

Cochran said he thinks the farm can still produce some vegetables this year, despite the late start.

"The cold just left,” Cochran said. "The growing season depends on the product itself."

Pratt said he was working with Dunn to understand the former school parking lot that Dunn turned into a farm over three years of work.

“Ken literally laid the foundation for that site, so we’re going to take in the lessons that he learned,” Pratt said.

Pratt said he would build on Dunn’s model of selling a portion of the produce to upscale restaurants and donating the remainder to food pantries and community members.

He said he hoped to expand the activities on the farm to include a larger educational component for neighborhood youths to understand how a business works, how food is grown and other concepts.

Dunn, who had planned all along to eventually hand off control of the farm, said he was pleased with the announcement that Pratt would take over the farm he built.

“He has maybe deeper resources to support the project than we were able to garner, so I’m pleased he’s involved,” Dunn said. “His focus has always been on community empowerment, so on that we agree.”

Dunn said the farm is designed to produce 10 crops per year and produce 50,000 pounds of vegetables, which he projected would bring in about $250,000 per year and could employ five people at $30,000 a year plus benefits.

Pratt said he expected he would be able to salvage at least part of the growing season.

“I always have seedlings,” Pratt said. “As soon as we have the final piece in place, we’ll have things in the ground.”

He said he hoped to plant kale, Swiss chard, herbs, peppers and tomatoes still this year.

A spokesman for the city’s planning department said the city is working to provide Pratt access to the farm before the lease was finalized, if possible.

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