August 2, 2014. Chicago. (ONN) Last week, we told readers about the Art, Sustainability and Urban Farming Festival being held today on Chicago’s north side. But that’s certainly not the only endeavor bringing organic farming to urban Chicago neighborhoods. One such project is Organics of Chicago. It’s the idea of some ambitious young men who intend to revolutionize not only the retail produce business, but as many blight-stricken inner city communities as they can.
John Sessa, co-founder of Organics of Chicago.
John Sessa, co-founder of Organics of Chicago, has a very ambitious plan. And if his idea is successful, the non-profit will provide a desperately needed influx of jobs, housing and healthy foods to the poverty-stricken neighborhoods that need them the most. A recent press release from the organization explains, ‘Organics of Chicago will build urban farms in order to provide organic produce to food deserts and transitional housing, employment and empowerment programming to individuals in need.’
Solutions to more than one problem
There are an estimated 40,000 vacant lots speckled across the city of Chicago. Some of the more poverty plagued neighborhoods, like the recently publicized Englewood community, is host to 5,000 of them. That’s why the city is giving them away for $1. The only catch is that you must already own a home on that street. The idea is to incentivize local residents to clean up and maintain the plot of land, eventually leading to the building of a new home.
But most of the people taking advantage of the program, not to mention the hundreds of residents simply taking it upon themselves to clean up vacant lots in their communities, are planting organic urban gardens right in the middle of the asphalt covered landscape. Due to the poverty and crime in many areas, there are no grocery stores and already-poor residents are forced to do their food shopping at convenience stores and mini-marts where the prices are typically double or triple an average discount grocer. The shelves are also stocked with unhealthy foods.
Organics of Chicago
John Sessa and Organics of Chicago intend to take the concept of urban gardens one step further. The organization is a non-profit with the intention of funneling proceeds back into the project, helping it grow and spread to other neighborhoods. But the model is set up like a typical business. And while it’s a very ambitious model, the idea is attracting the attention of all sorts of businesses and non-profit social assistance organizations.
According to the group’s website and print materials, ‘Organics of Chicago promises to help grow healthy neighborhoods, lives and lifestyles through the best of green innovation and social responsibility. Organics is going to be more than just an urban farm. The buildings will include transitional or supportive housing apartments. The units will house challenged individuals while providing job training and personal development support programming.’
As the group explains, their plan will begin with the purchase and renovation of a, ‘distressed building in a key urban location in the Chicagoland area.’ Both the physical building and the activities going on inside will be powered completely by alternative energy like solar, geothermal and possibly even wind. The facility will be staffed by the organization’s employees, made up mainly of local special needs individuals who have difficulty finding employment at traditional places for one reason or another.
Desperately needed solutions
If there are three things Chicago’s blighted and ignored neighborhoods need, its jobs, food and rebuilding. Organics of Chicago intends to satisfy all three. Employing local contractors to renovate their building, they will then hire employees to turn it into a vast, indoor, urban garden. The organic fruits and vegetables grown will be sold off with the profits being used to buy the next abandoned building in the next poverty-stricken neighborhood.
According to the organization’s founders, ‘The intention is to create an environment that fosters creative thinking and training while helping support neighborhood growth and development. These initiatives are all internally fostered, while additionally promoting a community and city-wide awareness program focused around nutrition, supportive housing and neighborhood sustainability initiatives.’
Illustrating just how creatively they are thinking, the group is currently raising funds by selling naming rights to individual bricks that will pave the facility in prime, visible spots. For $100, donors and supporters can have one brick laser-engraved with up to three lines of text. For $250, contributors can inscribe a double-sized brick.
In addition, Organics of Chicago has also launched a Kickstarter campaign to solicit funding for their project. So far, at this early stage and with little or no media coverage, the organizers are still a long way from getting to their goal of raising $50,000 to acquire an abandoned building and renovate it, providing the first of many good paying jobs to a community desperately in need of them.
Art, Sustainability and Urban Farming Fest
As if right on cue, the Art, Sustainability and Urban Farming Festival is also being held. It will take place at City Farm located 1204 N. Clybourn on Chicago’s north side today, August 2, from 11:00am to 4:00pm.
With an actual small, urban farm on the premises, demonstrations by the farm’s dedicated team of volunteers will be given all day long on how they create and sustain their farm located in the heart of Chicago’s concrete jungle. From 11 to 1, family events like kids coloring, craft tables, instrument building, yoga, story time and a fresh food workshop are the main attractions. At 1:00, the live music begins and goes until close.
For more information, read the Illinois Herald article, ‘Art, Sustainability and Urban Farming Fest Aug 2’.
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