A Farm that has Something to SayFeb 28, 2011 ● By Mayre Press
When the Evanston Food Policy Council (EFPC) was formed in 2005, the idea of growing organic food within the immediate community became an obvious and key component of a healthy local food system. After many community planning meetings concerning the creation of an urban farm and learning center in Evanston, The Talking Farm (TTF) was created as a not-for-profit organization.
TTF’s mission is to cultivate healthy, sustainable communities by supporting the production and appreciation of locally grown food. The organization’s vision includes both a physical space to grow food for sale to the community as well as the educational and knowledge-sharing activities that emerge from the operations of an urban, organic farm dedicated to establishing sustainable food security for the Evanston and Skokie communities.
To date, TTF has formed several community partnerships, working with students and educators to help bring residents closer to where their food is grown. Working with Kingsley Elementary School in Evanston, the group helped to establish a 3,000-square-foot edible garden plot at Twiggs Park known as Kingsley Green Acres. At nearby Northwestern University in Evanston, TTF worked with the campus group Students for Ecological and Environmental Development (SEED) and other student groups to design and install a 500-square-foot edible garden next to the Norris University Center. And at Oakton Community College in Skokie, TTF produced four sessions titled “Food Matters: Teaching Sustainability/Integrating Service Learning.” (See sidebar for information on “Equitable Food Systems,” presented by Debbie Hillman.)
One of the largest community projects to date has been the Edible Acre Pilot Project at Evanston Township High School, where TTF coordinated planning and learning experiences for a community garden designed, built and maintained by ETHS students. TTF considers this project very successful, due in part to its location on the corner of Davis Street and Dodge Avenue in Evanston. It gets ample sunlight and has good soil. Last year, the 5,000-square-foot lot produced 130 pounds of tomatoes, 40 pounds of green beans, 60 pounds of carrots and more than 100 pounds of other vegetables. Not only did students sell their wares at the Evanston Civic Center a couple of Friday afternoons in July 2010, the school’s cafeteria also featured some of the produce for lunches. “Students are more receptive to ‘eating their vegetables’ when they have been involved with the planting, growing and harvesting of them,” says Meghan Gibbons, Director of Nutrition Services. “We made a ratatouille that was a crowd-pleaser.”
TTF hopes to establish its own permanent urban farm to serve the community. Finding a good growing site, however, has proven to be a challenge. The group recently ended negotiations with the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District for a parcel of land on Howard Street near the North Shore Channel, due in large part to many trees on the property and a lack of sunlight. Now the board is looking at other sites in the Evanston/Skokie area.
“With any urban site, there will be a need for soil remediation,” explains Debbie Hillman, a founding board member of The Talking Farm. “Beyond the obvious concern with pollutants, the soil’s fertility and whether the terrain is flat or hilly are other concerns.” An ideal site would also get plenty of full sun.
In addition to community partnerships, The Talking Farm has played a leadership role with regard to food policy in the state of Illinois. “Why is it so difficult for farmers here to make a decent living?” asks Hillman. “It’s because the government subsidizes cheap food.” She adds that 95 percent of consumer food dollars leave Illinois. “The U.S. has a $48 billion agricultural industry and 95 percent of our spending leaves the state,” she says.
TTF is also working with officials in Cook County, who intend to propose a Food Policy Council by the end of this year.
The Talking Farm can be reached at 847-425-5125 or by visiting TheTalkingFarm.org.
Mayre Press writes about sustainable living. Read her “Ask Eco Gal” column in the Evanston RoundTable and her blog at AskEcoGal.Blogspot.com.