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Chicago: Urban gardening project for the difficult-to-employ

  • Subject: [cg] Chicago: Urban gardening project for the difficult-to-employ
  • From: Don Boekelheide dboekelheide@yahoo.com
  • Date: Thu, 16 Feb 2006 12:48:20 -0800 (PST)

Chicago Tribune, Chicago, Illinois, USA

Urban gardening project for the difficult-to-employ

By Charles Storch
Tribune staff reporter
Published February 16, 2006

Several non-profits are collaborating on a planned
urban horticulture enterprise in Chicago's North
Lawndale neighborhood that would provide jobs and
training to ex-offenders and others difficult to
employ.

The group is asking the city to transfer, for $1, a
4.9-acre parcel at the northwest corner of South
Kostner Avenue and West Cermak Road, which would be
site of the proposed non-profit Windy City Harvest.
The group wants to employ and train 30 people there a
year to grow lettuce, mesclun, tomatoes and bedding
plants for wholesale and retail markets.

The Sweet Beginnings apiary is another
agriculture-based, transitional jobs program in the
neighborhood, training eight workers a year to care
for bees and produce the popular Beeline brand honey.
It needs to expand and would like to join Windy City
Harvest at its proposed site, according to Reginald
Jones.

Jones is executive director of Chicago's Steans Family
Foundation, which has focused its philanthropy on
North Lawndale for more than a decade. Steans is to
provide a grant of $650,000 to the project. The other
lead funder, the Searle Funds at the Chicago Community
Trust, is providing $500,000.

They are seeking government support and other
donations for a site that could cost $2.3 million to
construct and around $1 million to operate initially.

"This program is an opportunity to engage the hard to
employ in a meaningful career area," Jones said. "It
also creates an economic development enterprise in
North Lawndale. And having such an entity in the
community addresses the need for access there to
produce."

Among other things, it would help to continue the work
of the late Charles Shaw, who helped to redevelop the
Homan Square property there that had been owned by
Sears, Roebuck & Co.

The West Side neighborhood has experienced an influx
of ex-offenders recently released from confinement.
The program would be open to them and others with
limited education and job experience from North
Lawndale and elsewhere, Jones said. It would help
workers find more permanent, related employment after
their year's training.

Jones said several groups are providing expertise to
the project. They are the Chicago Botanic Garden,
Chicago Christian Industrial League, Lawndale Business
and Local Development Corp. and North Lawndale
Employment Network, which runs Sweet Beginnings.

Chicago Community Trust President Terry Mazany said
the project stemmed in part from a visit made by Nancy
Searle, a member of the wealthy pharmaceutical family,
to Manchester Craftsmen's Guild, a non-profit art and
learning center in Pittsburgh. Impressed with its
horticultural training program, she helped persuade
trust and Steans officials to visit too. They then
asked Chicago Botanic Garden to advise on a project
here, Mazany said.

If the land transfer moves through the Chicago City
Council without a hitch, the garden could be completed
by early 2007, Jones said.

The operating plan calls for an initial 75,000 square
feet of indoor growing space as well as outdoor plots.
A nearby building owned by one of the advisers will be
leased and renovated to serve as headquarters.

The wholesale market of stores, restaurant and
institutions is expected to account for 60 percent of
sales, with the remaining 40 percent coming at farmers
markets and other retail outlets.

The hope is that the business will generate enough
income to offset most costs.


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