Chicago housing project turned into urban farm

   07.01.13

Chicago housing project turned into urban farm

My former colleague from Ars Technica, Jacqui Cheng, has written a nice piece in Modern Farmer on urban farming in Chicago’s Cabrini Green. Before the last of the buildings were demolished in 2011, Cabrini Green was one of Chicago’s largest and most notorious public housing projects. My wife and I lived in Chicago while Cabrini was being demolished, and she was a social worker who visited low-income families in the projects. She never visited a client at Cabrini, but she did spend a lot of time in the area.

At any rate, it looks like part of the land that the project was on has been converted into an urban farm called Chicago Lights.

Chicago Lights was started in 2003 and built entirely atop an empty concrete lot — not that you’d know it from walking between the plots. Holbert says the entire 32,000-square-foot site was built from scratch by trucking in soil and creating their own compost, which they use to continue building the farm’s base every year. Today, there’s somewhere between 10 to 18 inches of soil on top of the concrete, which is plenty good for most of the food grown there. “We have some trouble growing those giant beefsteak tomatoes, but otherwise we can and do grow pretty much anything,” Holbert said.

The farm helps address the lack of grocery stores in this area. It’s a de facto food desert, so this farm is the only access that residents have to fresh produce.

One thing that Jacqui doesn’t mention about the local kids that volunteer at the farm, is that this is the only exposure most of them have ever gotten to anything resembling the outdoors. It’s a small dose, but anything that helps kids “get out there” is fantastic.

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