Annual Appeal for Good Food: Six Organizations Worth Your Donation

December 19, 2012 at 12:33 pm

Sunflower at The Talking Farm’s Howard Street Farm

It seems like all we see on restaurant menus lately is “farm-to-table” food. As much as we like to indulge in our local bounty, this love has not necessarily translated into donations to charitable community organizations that are trying to make this good food more accessible in Chicagoland. Every year, good food organizations in our area examine whether their limited funds justify continuing the fight. Even though times are tough, they need our help to continue moving forward. Why support locally-minded food organizations? Some would say that it’s because there’s a lot of worth in an alternative system of sustainably-grown food that has not traveled far (ideally less than 100 miles) before reaching our plates. (In the United States, on average our food travels 1,500 miles from farm to consumer, says Worldwatch Institute.) Others would say that it strengthens the community, and makes it easier for people to access healthy food. But how do you grow food locally, on a smaller scale, when few people aspire to be farmers anymore, or have the resources to do so even if they want to? How do you help people educate their children about the source of their food? This is where these organizations step in – and Chicagoland is very lucky to have them. The funding needs for these organizations is acute. Please give as generously as you can. (Links to each organization’s website are embedded in the paragraphs below, which you can click on to donate.)

The Talking Farm started in 2006 out of the efforts of the Evanston Food Policy Council to educate their community about healthy, fresh, locally grown food, agricultural policy, and organic growing practices. Since then, they’ve partnered with public schools, service clubs, religious groups and garden clubs to further their educational mission. On the heels of a successful project with Evanston Township High School called “the Edible Acre”, they established an urban farm in Skokie—the Howard Street Farm—on pristine land that once was farmland. With sheer grit and determination, in just over a year, they turned over the soil, planted crops, and composted according to sustainable agricultural practices. Their most exceptional project in 2012 was the creation of the Demonstration Garden, which includes ethnic heritage beds with 15 different types of plants that reflect the diverse food of the community, native Illinois perennials, a rain garden, an education tent, and a compost area. Now, they need an irrigation system and additional fencing.

Ten years ago, Growing Home created a job training program focused on organic agriculture by operating four certified organic farms that serve as work-sites and classrooms in Englewood, Back of the Yards and Marseilles, Illinois. Growing Home has supported almost 300 Chicagoans in finding them full time work in retail, landscaping and food service industries or placement in further training and educational programs.

Family Farmed works directly with local and national organizations to train farmers, provide a support network for entrepreneurs, financing, access to capital, and to create “food hubs” that stimulate local food systems. They also produce the marvelously educational and interactive Good Food Festival, which acts as an intensive learning incubator for hundreds of people on eating locally grown food and small, family farms. In addition, it publishes a Chicagoland CSA Guide (along with The Local Beet).

Founded by Beet contributor Melissa Graham, Purple Asparagus provides nutrition education to underserved communities in Chicago. In 2011-12, Melissa and Purple Asparagus provided regular monthly classes to 18 public schools about good, healthful foods. Combined with its community programs, they reached over 5,000 children last year alone. Purple Asparagus has now been approved as a food and fitness partner with the Chicago Public Schools’ new wellness policy.

If you have the energy and vision of Will Allen, founder of  Growing Power, you create a land trust dedicated to providing equal access to healthy, high-quality, safe and affordable food to people of diverse backgrounds, which you grow to encompass over nine urban farms and projects in the Milwaukee and Chicago metropolitan areas. The Iron Street Urban Farm, located in the Bridgeport neighborhood of Chicago, is making a significant impact on our local food system. It is only one of a handful that produces food with aquaponics. They also have bee hives, an urban orchard, ten hoop houses, and most remarkably, engage in vermicomposting, a nutrient-rich, worm-based compost that they sell. Growing Power also provides job training and education.

The Spence Farm Foundation’s mission is to teach new or young farmers how to build sustainable, small family farms by holding classes, workshops and seminars. Spence Farm works with universities and government organizations to arm people with the knowledge on how to make an impact on the good food system. In 2012, they operated a beekeeping workshop with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, and a seed selection and produce marketing program with Spence Farm and the University of Illinois Extension that taught farmers on selecting the right seeds for successful crops, and about marketing strategies for CSAs, farmers’ markets, farm stands and wholesale distribution.