Healthy changes stem from community gardens

June 8, 2011 (CHICAGO)

The term "food desert" refers to an area within a city without grocery stores or restaurants featuring fresh fruits and vegetables. Two projects hope to make healthier eating a permanent part of the community.

Throughout the west and south sides of the city, it's pretty easy to find fast food spots. It's more challenging to find bountiful gardens and restaurants using up that local produce. But a couple of new ventures are hoping to remedy that situation by seeking money from non-governmental sources and combining forces.

At first glance, the dining room looks like any other modern, airy space in the city. But this is Inspiration Kitchen in Garfield Park, where at-risk youth and adults get job training and career placement services.

"It's also an educational tool for the students so they can really get an appreciation for where food comes from, how much better it is when it's grown close to where it's used and appreciation of how much work it takes to get a tomato or cucumber," said Margaret Haywood, the Director of Training and Social Enterprise at Inspiration Kitchens Garfield Park.

"We've got some broccoli, collards, swish chard, kale…" said David Rosenthall, the executive chef at the restaurant. He's also working on planting radishes and fresh herbs in the tiny gardens just outside of the dining room.

"We want to start growing some food that we can use on the menu. We want to be local, sustainable, all those things that we strive for," Haywood said.

Another effort to add urban gardens to previously neglected spaces is going on simultaneously in Gage Park, on the Southwest Side. The Give Back To Grow program starts with grants from Scotts Miracle-Gro and the help of Keep America Beautiful.. and the Park District is getting local kids to have an equity stake in what they plant.

"With the Harvest Garden Program kids here will be planting vegetables, flowers, herbs and we will be harvesting them throughout the year. They'll be maintaining the garden, doing the weeding, doing the watering and then once we start harvesting we'll start eating all the produce," said Jane Schenck, from the Chicago Park District.

And that's where organizers hope to start changing habits in the kitchen. Even better, the raised beds on top of asphalt make the flowers and vegetables easy to reach.

"Because this garden is on a tennis court it's completely accessible, so we do have some kids in the park with special needs. They're able to move around the garden very easily," said Schenck.

Another benefit for Gage Park: an onsite kitchen, which means as the produce is harvested, they'll be showing the kids in the neighborhood how to cook with them.

    Important Facts about Hunger and Community Gardening in Chicago
  • Millions of children suffer from chronic under-nutrition, the under-consumption of essential nutrients and food energy. The risk of nutrient deficiencies that can lead to serious health problems, including impaired cognitive development, growth failure, physical weakness, anemia and stunting.
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that Americans throw away more than 11 billion pounds of produce each year. Despite that surplus, 4.1 percent of U.S. households experience hunger, 2.9 million of whom are children.
  • According to the Greater Chicago Food Depository, nearly 1 in 6 children are hungry in the Chicago area. And more than 11 percent of Illinois households are currently facing hunger, according to the USDA.
  • In Cook County alone, according to the Hunger in America 2010 study, more than 678,000 individuals relied on food assistance from their local food bank in 2010.

Chicago GRO1000
2411 W. 55th St

Inspiration Kitchens
3504 W. Lake St

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