Garfield Park urban farm planning upgrades

FarmWorks wants to build rain garden to help prevent flooding

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By Igor Studenkov

Contributing Reporter

An urban farm in Garfield Park is looking to install a rain garden in order to creatively address urban flooding in the area. 

Ever since it opened around six years ago, the urban farm at 407 N. Kedzie Ave. has been more than just a place to grow vegetables. The farm is part of Chicago FarmWorks, a transitional jobs program operated by Heartland Alliance. The program provides people who have criminal records and other barriers to employment with the work experience necessary to find long-term, full-time jobs. 

Currently, FarmWorks is seeking to make some capital improvements in order to expand its already broad range of program offerings. The organization is working with the Garfield Park Community Council to install a rain garden and outdoor sculpture by local artist Andrea Jablonski. The garden and sculpture are designed to provide shade and storm water reduction. The organization also wants to add a garden on three city lots along Kedzie Avenue. 

Jessica Surma, Heartland Alliance's urban agriculture coordinator, said that FarmWorks was a logical extension of her organization's two major goals.

"We believe that people have a right to a good job in the community and a right to healthy, affordable food," she said. "Garfield Park, Uptown, Englewood — those are all areas of city that have a high level of food insecurity."

Over the course of 11 weeks, participants work on the urban farm and at the Greater Chicago Food Depository. They are taught soft skills that come in handy when it comes to keeping a job, such as being able to show up on time and working well with co-workers and supervisors. On Fridays, they get financial literacy training and learn how to write resumes.

Surma said that participants benefit from having the Hatchery, 135 N. Kedzie Ave., near the urban farm. Some participants have found jobs through FarmWorks' partnership with one of the Hatchery's co-owners, the Industrial Council of Nearwest Chicago, she said. 

"We expect that, as the Hatchery expands, our participants would get some of those spots," she said. 

 And we also serve on their community advisory council."

In addition to that, Surma explained, FarmWorks offers garden plots that local residents and schools can rent. 

"Most people apply for scholarships," she said. "We charge $30 for a season, which is pretty reasonable."

Heartland Alliance has been working with the Garfield Park Community Council; Site Design Group, a landscape architecture firm; and the Center for Neighborhood Technology, a downtown Chicago-based nonprofit that promotes urban sustainability in order to reduce flooding from the nearby parking lot and provide a place where workers and volunteers can gather and get some shade.

According to the Council's Oct. 10 newsletter, Jablonski's sculpture will complement the rain garden.

"In addition to using angled planes to direct water to the rain garden, the piece will be large enough to serve as a shaded gathering space," the Council explains. "Reflective and colored materials will mirror the garden and connect visually to the Kedzie Green Line 'L' stop."

"We have area in front of our farm that kind of looks a little junky and it's hard to maintain," Surma said. "They're planning to plant more eatable plants. That way, people can pick up blueberries on the way to the 'L' stop." 

CONTACT: igorst3@hotmail.com 

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