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Archive - You, Your Body and Your Health

City Farming: A Real Solution for the Englewood Community and Other Urban Food Deserts in Chicago

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On June 18, 2013, I had the wonderful opportunity to attend a special event held at a local City Farm fresh market situated in Northeast Chicago. This event was generously sponsored by Barefoot Wine & Bubbly for the purpose of supporting Resource Center’s latest initiative in sustainable urban farming.

Resource Center is a 35-year-old Chicago-based non-profit organization established with a mission to promote recycling and use of reclaimed material.

While in the midst of enjoying fresh hors d’oeuvres and wine during this event, I thought to myself: “I can’t believe that I’m sitting outside, in Cabrini Green, drinking wine and eating vegetables in the middle of a garden”.

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For those who don’t know, Cabrini Green was once a major housing project located on Chicago’s Northeast side – exactly where City Farm sits today. The Cabrini Green projects were the backdrop of the popular sitcom “Good Times” and a real life setting in the classic 70’s film “Cooley High”.

Although I grew up in the Englewood community on the Southside of Chicago, I have very fond childhood memories of ole Cabrini Green. I spent a great deal of time on the 9th floor of one of the high rises playing with several of my cousins who lived there.

By all accounts Cabrini Green fit the description of what we now label a ‘food desert’. By all accounts Cabrini Green fit the description of what we now label a ‘food desert’. According to Wikipedia, a food desert is “a district with little or no access to foods needed to maintain a healthy diet” but often served by plenty of fast food. Food deserts are getting a lot of press these days, and for good reason on many levels. 

One bothersome theme that has entered the conversation is that food deserts are the main reason why many people have poor diets and engage in unhealthy eating behaviors. The argument has become a crutch in a few circles and is regularly cropping up on national television via public health professionals and TV pundits (read about my personal perspective on food deserts here).

Now, before dinner was served, I had an intriguing and exciting conversation with the guest of honor Ken Dunn, founder of Chicago’s Resource Center. Because of his efforts, Ken was recently named one of Barefoot Wine & Bubbly’s Soles of the Year. This is a program that celebrates caring and compassionate individuals making a lasting impression in their local communities.

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Resource Center’s latest initiative, City Farm was the subject of our conversation and one that I’m now incredibly excited about. Through the City Farm initiative, Ken and his Resource Center have been able to turn vacant land in urban area food deserts into productive farmland.

There are currently four City Farm locations throughout Chicago. These farms have grown over 25,000 pounds of organic produce while simultaneously providing jobs to the local community.

City Farm uses organic farming methods, which are more environmentally friendly than conventional farming. Consuming organically grown produce reduces dietary exposure to potentially harmful synthetic chemicals like pesticides (learn about the benefits of eating organic foods here).

During my conversation with Ken I learned that the newest City Farm location is in the Washington Park community on Perry Street and 57th, which is just steps away from Englewood. That’s Englewood, the neighborhood in which I grew up. In fact, this location is less than 2 miles away from where my parents live today – in a food desert (click here to read about my personal story as a native of the Englewood community).

By housing a City Farm location in Washington Park, Ken and his Resource Center have supplied residents in Englewood like my parents and others in nearby food deserts with a local fresh market to frequent for nutritious, freshly grown organic produce at very affordable costs. Furthermore, this initiative could potentially provide jobs that bring money into the community. Having a farm in the heart of these urban communities is also a great way to beautify the area.

Unfortunately, I’ve learned that there’s been an utter lack of local participation and support in this initiative, namely from churches and community centers. Since the grand opening, there have been very few patrons – why is this?

It could be that the primary factor of relevance when it comes to food deserts like Englewood is a lack of knowledge about proper nutrition and food preparation (cooking) as many people just haven’t grasped the idea of just how easy and cheap healthy eating can be.

I always emphasize that living in a food desert doesn’t take away the need for being accountable for your own health. Nor is it an excuse for faulty eating habits.

If anything the Washington Park City Farm initiative is a teaching moment, an opportunity to educate and change peoples’ mental attitudes in order to emphasize the importance of healthy eating for good health.

In continuing my personal pursuit to preach a gospel of health and wellness, I plan to regularly donate my time and effort to spreading the word about Ken’s Resource Center and the City Farm initiative in Washington Park, Englewood, and other communities.

Cheers to Barefoot Wine & Bubbly for honoring fabulously kindhearted people like Ken Dunn and supporting grassroots community initiatives. If you’d like to make a donation to Resource Center click here.

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To learn what it takes to achieve and maintain good health through weight control, click here and pick up a copy of Leaving Your Fat Behind. For more of the latest and greatest in health, fitness, and nutrition, “Like” me on Facebook at Nina Cherie, PhD of Complete Health Solutions and follow me on Twitter at @NinaCheriePhD.

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Disclaimer: The information provided is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Any reader who is concerned about his or her health should contact a physician for advice.

Before starting an exercise training program you should first make sure that exercise is safe for you.  If you are under the age of 55 years and generally in good health, it is probably safe for you to exercise.  However, if you are over 55 years of age and/or have any health problems, be sure to consult with your physician before starting an exercise training program.

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