Earlier this week, I attended a Slow Food-organized fundraiser for City Farm, an organic urban farm that grows a lot of heirloom tomatoes (as well as some other things) in a previously vacant lot next to Cabrini Green. I never knew it was there, but after spending a few hours on the premises, I think City Farm is one of the neatest new urban projects I've seen in a long time.
What's especially cool is that they use compost that's composted on the south side, from local landscaping scraps and restaurant leftovers. Several of the restaurants that donate their scraps are also customers of the produce grown at City Farm.
I wrote about it on FCG, and am pasting the text below. FYI, there's another dinner like the one I attended scheduled for July 30th. Limit of 24 people. The $30 dinner proceeds go entirely to City Farm. As for the chow, all side dishes (couscous, salads, roasted carrots, potatoes, corn) were made with ingredients from Green City Market and City Farm produce. The BBQ meat came from Green City as well, I think, and Paulina Meat market.
On Wednesday I attended my first Slow Food event: a BBQ fundraiser for City Farm, an organic non-profit urban farm in a vacant lot at Division and Halsted, next to Cabrini Green. I had no idea it existed! Yet there it is: a fertile plot, sustaining an unbelievable number of heirloom tomatoes, beets, lettuces, carrots, squash, melon, potatoes, turnips, pumpkins, and flowers. All growing gracefully against the Chicago skyline.
Before dinner, we got a tour of the farm (or market garden, since there are no animals). Everything there is grown organically, but more important is what it's grown on: Chicago's compost. The Resource Center, which started a compost heap on the south side some years ago, collects material from non-pesticide using landscapers and several local restaurants. The scraps are then composted at a licensed facility on the south side (70th and Dorchester), and brought in to fertilize the City Farm. The ground beneath the compost and soil is hard clay, so the composting is crucial.
What's neat is that some of the restaurants, including Frontera Grill, Mod, and the Ritz Carleton, donate scraps to compost, then purchase vegetables grown by that compost. How wonderfully cyclical! When there's a surplus, they sell produce at the Green City Farmers Market, and word is that they'll occasionally sell veggies through the City Farm fence to walkups.
The main City Farm crop is heirloom tomatoes, multiple varieties. I got to sample a small one last night; even so early in the season it was the best tomato I've had this year. They've got three heirloom cycles growing, one of which will be ready soon; of course the best ones come late in the summer.
The City of Chicago owns the land that City Farm is currently operating on. It's on a year-to-year lease, with a promise by the city not to interrupt the growing season. They started the endeavor last summer, and it's amazing what three main people and some volunteers have done with it in such a short amount of time. There's another plot of land across the street that they could do more with; it would forward their goal of expanding wider distribution of locally grown produce within the city, providing better nutrition without food travelling very far. They also have a couple of low maintenance lots on the south side, where potatoes are grown.
City Farm is looking for volunteers, and I think I'll be making the time for them. I also finally got around to joining Slow Food. It's something I've been meaning to do for a while, but after Wednesday's dinner, I was inspired. Everything we ate came from the Green City Market, the City Farm in which we were dining, and a couple other local places.
I also picked up a few gardening tips. For example, Murphy Oil Soap is good for keeping the bugs off tomatoes. However, I decided that if they're not eating my tomatoes, which they aren't, the presence of bugs doesn't bother me. Also, coyote urine, which is sold online, is good for keeping rats away. But we haven't had any problems with them yet.
I'm really excited to have discovered such a neat endeavor so close to home and so close to my heart. The URL for the City Farm/ Resource Center is www.resourcecenterchicago.org, but there doesn't seem to be anything there at the moment.
Urban agriculture is an effort definitely worth supporting. Ever since that dinner, every vacant lot I see makes me wish it had more growing in it than weeds.