By Rena Newman
Or Tzedek Advanced Activism ’14
Last Thursday, a group of five Or Tzedekers trekked down to the Wood Street Urban Farm – a USDA certified, all-organic garden in Englewood, a neighborhood on the south side of Chicago. As we parked, we could see the rows and rows of kale, chard, and radishes through the chain link. Tomato plants stood dignified in the shade of a hoop-house.
The Wood Street Urban Farm is one of two farms run by the organization, Growing Home. However, their mission isn’t just to prove they have a green thumb. Growing Home delivers tons of fresh produce to an area where there is none; a food desert. Food deserts are neighborhoods that are devoid of fresh fruits, vegetables, and other healthy food choices within a mile radius. Instead, these places are riddled with ‘quick marts’, franchises that sell only chips, pop, and snacks.
Food deserts deny people the opportunity to be healthier, and in turn, deny them the opportunity to be happier. The most unfortunate fact about food deserts is just how common they are in (and around) Chicago. Englewood is considered huge food desert. But the superheroes of Growing Home are combating it, one carrot at a time.
We washed our hands. Because the Wood Street Urban Farm is organic, our hands had to be clean of everything but their natural oils. I thought about other hand washing traditions – washing before Shabbat dinner, a sign of hospitality for the Sabbath. Our Growing Home hosts were incredibly hospitable and patient with us, unfamiliar with farming tools and plants.
They welcomed us through the room where produce was bunched & packed and into the garden. Rows and rows of greens sprung out of the ground. Throughout the day we forked, pulled and harvested carrots before bunching them, weighed the arugula and radishes before packing them, and gave the green onions a haircut.
At lunch, we slouched on the bench. Michael, a little boy who’d been working on the farm too, was full of energy and sat with us as we ate. I was amazed by a sense of deep respect for this work – we were only there for half a day and we felt exhausted. The amount of precision and understanding that farming takes is a skillset needing years to develop, requiring tons of planning and tons of hard work of the mind, and especially hard work of the body.
What Growing Home does is incredible – managing so many plots of soil, planting, harvesting and then replanting on a constant cycle, on a mission to provide good food (and I can attest to the ‘good’ part) to a community otherwise devoid of it.
Growing Home is truly a lean, green, food-growing machine. And by machine, I mean a great, smart, incredible team of committed folks from in and around the community, farming righteously. Though I may volunteer every once in a while, the Growing Home farmers are out every day pulling weeds and picking stones, committed to their cause.
You too can support Growing Home! Their delicious produce can be bought at farmer’s markets all over the city: the Green City Market, the Logan Square Market, the Les Brown Memorial Farmstand and their very own Wood Street Urban Farm Stand.