Ill. couple increases access to organic produce

April 23, 2009 12:12:46 PM PDT
Organic foods have been making their way from specialty stores to local supermarkets in recent years, but in some communities they are still in short supply. However, a farmer and a festival might help change that.

Some areas of the city are known as "food deserts" because they lack full-service grocery stores. As a result, residents don't have access to fresh produce. Now, one former Chicago couple is trying to help supply that demand.

Johari Cole-Kweli doesn't mind getting her hands dirty. She says her work pulling weeds is for a good cause.

"It's for everyone to be able to enjoy good, clean food for their families," she said.

Cole-Kweli and her husband, Sharadi Kweli, own and operate a 42-acre certified organic farm in Pembroke, Illinois. The couple migrated to the small town south of chicago to help fill a void.

"I try not to stand on a soapbox, but if there's an ear that's willing to listen, I'm willing to talk about it," Sharadi Kweli said.

"In the black communities, hypertension is on the rise. Obesity is on the rise, and all of these other autoimmune diseases, [like] diabetes. The first thing they say is you need to get more fruits and vegetables into your diet, but there aren't any in our community," Johari Cole-Kweli said.

The couple typically sells its crops in Chicago's urban farmers markets. They and other growers were planning bring their harvests to a South Side festival over the weekend. The event aims to highlight the issue of limited food access in many black neighborhoods while educating the community on the importance of healthy eating.

"The Good Greens Festival, I think, is a really wonderful concept to start showcasing the efforts of a lot of people?and trying to make it widespread so more and more people can jump on the bandwagon and do things within their own realm," said Johari Cole-Kweli. "Growing lettuce in a flower pot to provide fresh vegetables for their immediate family, that's something that everybody can do."

Another goal is to get the next generation interested in agriculture to address the shortage of local farmers. The Kwelis have been training an apprentice for the past several months.

"It's important to gain skills of self-sufficiency to be able to support myself. Also, we're in a time in this world where we need to be environmentally aware and make decisions that will impact the earth in a beneficial way," apprentice Nadirah Bilal said.

The Good Greens Festival is scheduled for Saturday at the Dusable museum from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and is sponsored by Congressman Bobby Rush. Admission is free.

For more information, visit www.dusablemuseum.org/news/view/good_greens_festival_2008_eat_to_live, Food Deserts, or http:/asap.sustainability.uiuc.edu/members/sagra/LaSalleBank_FoodDesert_ExecSummary.pdf.


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