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Making an Impact

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Through Windy City Harvest’s Farm on Ogden, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois supports healthier food choices for the community.

For three years, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois (BCBSIL) has proudly supported Windy City Harvest to help build local food systems, healthier communities and a greener economy.

Windy City Harvest grew out of the Chicago Botanic Garden’s urban agriculture education and job-training initiative. Participants learn to grow and handle food on urban farms all over the Chicago area. The organization sells its food at reasonable prices at farm stands and markets.

In 2018, Windy City Harvest joined with the Lawndale Christian Health Center to open the Farm on Ogden in a renovated building on the city’s West Side. The new space serves as a door to the community and a base of operations for Windy City Harvest’s programs. It includes a 7,300 square-foot greenhouse and a 50,000-gallon aquaponic system for raising fish and produce.

The building is also a distribution hub for Veggies Rx. In this innovative program, the clinicians at the Lawndale Christian Health Center prescribe boxes of fresh fruits and vegetables to patients with diet-related conditions. These patients also get nutrition and cooking classes in English and Spanish.

The Farm on Ogden’s youth programs, meanwhile, are a vital part of the community. Teens ages 15-18 work on the farm and learn to harvest different foods, fruits and vegetables. They also learn to cook the food, which means they have healthy meals when they’re at work. Many have started growing their own gardens at home.

“We’re taking the obstacles out of the way and bringing the vegetables to people,” says BRITTANY CALENDO, a farm coordinator for Windy City Harvest.

That’s vital in nutritional deserts — communities that lack access to fresh fruit, vegetables and whole foods that make for a healthy diet.

The Farm on Ogden sells vegetables, fish, eggs and more at their new site and at a farmers market-style tent at Lawndale Christian Health Center’s Green Tomato Café.

With the help of supporters like BCBSIL and retail partners, the food at the market is sold at reasonable prices to encourage healthy eating. Windy City Harvest also supplies food for Green Tomato Café, a place where anyone in the community can get an affordable meal.

Harvesting Change

A large number of North Lawndale residents have a hard time getting work because of nonviolent criminal records. To help this population transition to long-term employment, the Windy City Harvest Corps provides full-time paid apprenticeships with training in urban farming and skills that prepare them for the job market.

The Farm on Odgen’s impact on the community continues to grow. Within months of opening, the building has become a hub for people to gather in a safe, open space. It has encouraged residents to connect with one another while learning about urban farming, nutrition and healthy choices.

Visit the Chicago Botanic Garden’s website to learn more about the Windy City Harvest program all over the Chicago area.

Video Transcript

Video Transcript

Farm on Ogden/Veggie Rx

ELIZA FOURNIER (PROGRAM DIRECTOR WINDY CITY HARVEST FARM ON OGDEN): The Farm on Ogden helps increase the health outcomes in the Lawndale community by providing access to all the produce that we have by having this front door for people to find us and providing low cost high quality produce to the community. And then of course through our partnership with Christian health and the Veggie Rx program we are providing the education about what to do with the produce once you get it home.

BRITTANY CALENDO (PCC WELLNESS FARM COORDINATOR): If there is not fresh produce close by if you don’t have access to transportation it can be a big obstacle to just get fresh produce to your home to cook with so with Veggie Rx we are taking that obstacle out of the way and bringing vegetables to people.

ELIZA FOURNIER: We are real excited to get our aquaponics system up and running so we can produce food all year round for the North Lawndale community and beyond.

BRITTANY CALENDO: So, we have 13 farms throughout the city where we are growing organic and sustainably grown vegetables.

ELIZA FOURNIER: We’ve been here in the Lawndale community through our youth farm program since 2005.

ELIZA FOURNIER: What looks like success is diff for everyone what we do see is every youth farm participant benefits from being around plants and working with plants.

ELIZA FOURNIER: Harvest Corps is a program through the Chicago Botanic Gardens Windy City Harvest department where we provide transitional jobs for men and women who are transitioning out of the justice system.

BRITTANY CALENDO: Most of these vegetables are being harvested between one to two miles where there we are distributing them, which means people are receiving them within 1–4 days of them being harvested.

ELIZA FOURNIER: We’ve really appreciated the partnership with Blue because we think it’s a perfect fit, particularly since the Farm on Ogden is focusing on food health and jobs and the funding from bobs helps us in every one of those areas. Jobs through the training the individuals get by growing the food. Health by the Veggie Rx program and food that is being provided by the store front every day.