For the next few Thursdays, people from North Lawndale and all across Chicago will be able to stop by the Nichols Tower parking lot, 906 S. Homan Ave. to pick up fresh vegetables that have been grown less than a block away.
The Lawndale Farm Stand is a collaboration between Gardeneers, a North Lawndale based non-profit, and DRW College Prep charter school. The idea is to give DRW students a hands-on learning experience while giving community residents an opportunity to get their hands on fresh produce.
Although the farm stand will close after Nov. 15, the two entities are already trying to figure out a way to keep something similar going year-round.
Gardeneers works to help schools throughout Chicago create and sustain community gardens. The idea is to teach students about healthy foods and generally encourage more healthy foods for communities in the food deserts. Among other things, the non-profit manages Homan Rails Farm, which, as the name suggests, is located on a currently unused portion of a railroad embankment south of Nichols Tower and DRW school.
Sandy Tran, a department associate with the Noble charter schools network, which DRW school is part of, said that the farm stand was a logical extension of the work Gardeneers were already doing with schools throughout Chicago.
“They have existing farm stand programs with other schools that they partner with and saw the value it brings to students who are involved and the positive impact it has on the community,” she said. “Since Gardeneers work closely with our DRW College Prep, they wanted to provide our students with a chance to learn about entrepreneurship and a platform to earn community service hours through the farm stand program.”
The funding for the program came through Public Health Institute of Metropolitan Chicago’s Healthy Seed 2.0 grant.
Tran explained that Selma Sims, the manager of Homan Rail Farm, and Erica Allen, DRW’s 9th Grade science teacher, developed a curriculum where students learn about biology while working at the Homan Rails Farm.
“Along with the science class, Gardeneers provides an after school enrichment program to DRW students,” Tran added. “These students run the farm stand and help with the farm production of fresh food. Gardeneers provide Garden Educators who help lead programming for students.”
While the farm stand officially started running on Oct. 11, Tran said they did a trial run a few weeks earlier and the response was encouraging.
“Back in September, the farm stand did a trial run and was able to give away 40 pounds of fresh food,” Tran said.
The farm stand operates on Thursdays, between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m., at the parking lot located between Nichols Tower and the Holy Family Ministries School to the east of it. Tran said that the vegetables available at the farm stand are the vegetables that are usually grown in the fall, such as kale, beans, beats, squash, onions, carrots and turnips. Tran said that anyone can stop by to get the food. Although they will be asked for zip codes, Tran said that this is strictly for the purpose of collecting statistics.
Tran said that DRW and the Gardeneers are currently looking to keep both the educational and the after-school components of the program going even after the end of the fall.
Tran also mentioned that, on the long run, Gardeneers is working to be able to bring some of the food that grows on Homan Rails Farm into DRW school’s cafeterias. That will require installing an irrigation system and, more importantly, ensure that the farm staff has proper certification.
“Gardeneers is currently working with the school’s dining service and other stakeholders on this major piece, which will help DRW students consume the fresh produce during their lunch,” she said.