"We're feeding healthy food to the community we serve," said Terry Tuohy, director of volunteer services at Weiss and mastermind behind this growing project. Tuohy had hoped the efforts would make a social impact on the diverse neighborhood surrounding the hospital. "We started a conversation on healthy living two years ago by setting up the urban farm and farmer's market in Uptown. The community is now embracing it."
The Uptown Farmers Market and Urban Rooftop Farm at Weiss received the 2011 Governor's Home Town Award, which recognized the hospital for going above and beyond in making its community a better place to live.
This year's "firsts" at the award-winning farm and market include:
Credit/Debit Cards. In order to accommodate an increasing number of patrons purchasing larger quantities of items, Weiss will accept VISA and MasterCard for all vendors.
Illinois LINK Cards. Given to citizens eligible for cash assistance from the state government, Weiss will accept LINK cards as payment for produce and other items sold at the market. An estimated 10,000 households in Uptown use LINK cards, so more low-income residents can enjoy fresh, healthy food choices.
Community Gardens. Weiss will invite community members, including a number of refugee groups, to join farmers atop the hospital's parking garage to grow their own fruits, vegetables and herbs in raised planter boxes. Weiss plans to expand its urban farm to a nearby lot at ground level.
Business/Neighborhood Outreach. Weiss will broaden its scope of market vendors by welcoming growers of more ethnic crops in demand from local restaurants and residents, and farmers of other community gardens throughout the city looking for a market to sell their goods.
For the past two years, vendors from the Chicago area and beyond have sold fresh produce at the farmers market. Local organizations such as the North Side Anti-Hunger Network and Heartland Alliance also set up tables promoting their cause. All the while, urban farmers grow crops atop an adjacent parking garage.
Weiss volunteer farmers Jed Schenkier and Will Pool take the lead, growing produce in the Urban Rooftop Farm and coaching community members in their own growing efforts. They have set up 20 planter boxes around the rim of the parking garage roof and built more than 15 raised beds, which contain seasonal fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, spinach, kale, watermelon and basil. They plant their crops using compost from food waste collected at the hospital and throughout the community; they hydrate the crops with water collected in rain barrels. The farmers also maintain an apiary of 150,000 bees, which pollinate within a 3-mile radius of Weiss.
The farmers have educated students and community members through tours, and now will assist interested neighbors as they tend to their own plots in the rooftop farm and at an additional nearby plot of land at ground level. "This is all about empowering the community through urban agriculture," urban farmer Pool said. "We're educating these farmers on how to grow healthy food for themselves and even how to be self-reliant by selling some of it."
A portion of the crop grown will go on sale at the farmers market. Much of the money earned will keep the farm operating; however, the hospital also donates some of the crop to local soup kitchens and shelters, and Weiss chefs use some of it for hospital dishes.
The hospital strives to make healthy eating accessible to everyone from senior citizens to young children-no matter their income level. In making the LINK cards part of the market this year, Tuohy says, "we want to encourage healthy food choices by providing affordable groceries."
The farmers market also integrates free health screenings, informational talks from dieticians and farmers, and cooking demonstrations by local chefs, including those from Inspiration Café, 4554 N. Broadway St.
Managing the Uptown Farmers Market at Weiss is part of the hospital's Health for Life initiative, which emphasizes healthy living habits for people of all ages. Diabetes is the most pressing concern in the community. "The first step to combating a disease is eating right," Tuohy said.
Some of the successes already experienced in helping its diverse community achieve health for life over the past two years:
12,000+ visitors purchased fresh produce and learned healthy living
100+ children from local schools and park districts educated on healthy eating
4 community-focused organizations connected with their neighbors
2 soup kitchens benefited from donated fruits, vegetables and herbs The ultimate goal of the project is to make Weiss a place where people can go to learn to be healthy, not just when they are ill.
"We're getting closer to the goal as more community members are inspired to be part of the urban farm and farmers market," Tuohy noted.
Find out more about the farmer's market and urban farm, or engage with the effort online through the Health for Life blog http://www.weisshospital.com/news-classes-and-events/blog.aspx. For more information, visit WeissHospital.com.
UpTOWN Farmers Market
Vanguard Weiss Memorial Hospital
4646 N. Marine Dr., Chicago
Starts June 21 and runs every Thursday from 7 am to 1 pm through October 25