Let It Grow: Chicago’s Gardens
~ By Natasha Holbert
As a child growing up in rural Colorado, I remember being enthralled with nature and plants. Now, like most of you, I live in an urban environment. Fortunately, that doesn’t mean being without opportunity to explore and connect to the natural environment. In fact, local community gardens pepper Chicago neighborhoods, growing far more than just plants.
Fresh vegetables are really a fringe benefit of urban community gardens. These natural oases foster enthusiasm for eating and trying new foods, respect for the environment and local community, and involvement in making positive contributions to society. They might even spark inspiration in kids for a future career path. Garden-centered programs for children and youth can also increase social development through hands-on learning, creating opportunities for participants to practice teamwork, patience, leadership, and collaboration, all through working together to create new life where before there was only urban refuse.
One of my joys as program director of the Chicago Lights Urban Farm is to watch neighborhood youth explore and find their niche at the farm. This particular urban farm is a collaboration between Chicago Lights and Growing Power. Our mission is to empower youth and community residents in the Cabrini-Green neighborhood to create increased economic opportunities through access to organic produce, nutritional education, work-force training, and microenterprise development.
The farm provides programs that teach participants about urban agriculture, nutrition, and healthy cooking. Additionally, those involved have access to affordable, organic produce, a rarity outside the city’s north side. Relationships in the community grow as people of diverse backgrounds work side by side and celebrate the beauty of their community.
Two of our hallmark programs are CHAMP (Children Achieving Maximum Potential) and Youth Corps. Youth Corps focuses on job training and youth development so that kids can learn about agriculture, life skills, and job readiness. CHAMP lends children a heightened understanding of health and nutrition, with a holistic view that includes arts and expression, physical activity, and environmental health along with gardening and agriculture.
During the summer months, we also hold Farm Camp, a 10-week program for kids ages 5 through 15. Our goal is to have children leave the farm with a greater understanding and enthusiasm for the world around them. It’s a place where they can come and learn in a safe environment. Many of the children at our farm have participated for years, coming here first as small children, and are now in Youth Corps and teaching their peers about the importance of connecting to a healthy food source and being productive members of the community.
The wonderful thing about gardening is that you don’t have to travel far to become part of the experience. Community gardens are sprouting up all over the Chicagoland area. You can visit one or start growing plants yourself in your yard, patio, or windowsill!
For more information about the Chicago Lights Urban Farm, check us out online at ChicagoLights.org (#CLUrbanFarm) or contact Natasha directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.