Source: CHICAGO BOTANIC GARDEN submitted to
Sponsoring Institution
National Institute of Food and Agriculture
Project Status
Funding Source
Reporting Frequency
Accession No.
Grant No.
Project No.
Proposal No.
Multistate No.
Program Code
Project Start Date
Sep 1, 2010
Project End Date
Aug 31, 2011
Grant Year
Project Director
Benveniste, P.
Recipient Organization
Performing Department
Non Technical Summary
On Chicago's West side, Windy City Harvest (WCH) offers job training to the hard to employ and fresh, affordable produce to the 176,000 residents of North Lawndale, Little Village, West Garfield Park, East Garfield Park, and beyond. Sales outlets range from high-end retail to farmers markets serving community residents. WCH is an integral contributor to a growing network of organizations committed to creating jobs and food security on Chicago's West side. The challenging statistics WCH was established to address are exemplified in North Lawndale: in this six-mile square community on Chicago's West side, 45% of households and more than half of children below age 18 live below the poverty level. The unemployment rate for 20 to 24 year olds in North Lawndale is 60%, and the community as a whole has an unemployment rate of 13%--almost triple the city average of 5%. A 2002 study of North Lawndale found that 57 percent of the adult population was either sentenced, serving time, or on parole or probation. Additionally, a study on access to healthy foods by neighborhood cited North Lawndale as a "food desert" community, holding near certain health risks for residents due to the statistically significant link between food options and health conditions. Obesity, heart disease, and diabetes are prevalent among adult residents, more than 46% of children are obese, nearly 17% of newborns have low birth weight, and the infant mortality rate is more than 13 per 1000 live births compared with a rate of slightly over nine for the City as a whole. WCH helps families toward economic self-sufficiency through greater access to fresh food, job training for the hard-to-employ (many of whom are heads of households), and the creation of jobs. Produce from the Boot Camp garden supplies the facility's mess hall and is donated to local food pantries, bringing fresh produce to vulnerable families and giving all of the facility's 1,200 yearly inmates a taste for healthy food. Urban agriculture, horticulture products, and related green businesses are part of a sector that is generating new job opportunities, particularly in Chicago where urban greening is becoming a byword of the city's culture and national image. Urban agriculture is also part of a national, state, and local movement toward sustainable, local production that uses less energy and resources than conventional agriculture, distributes food locally, and saves energy and other costs associated with transporting food to distant markets.
Animal Health Component
Research Effort Categories

Knowledge Area (KA)Subject of Investigation (SOI)Field of Science (FOS)Percent
Knowledge Area
704 - Nutrition and Hunger in the Population;

Subject Of Investigation
5010 - Food;

Field Of Science
3020 - Education;
Goals / Objectives
The vision for Windy City Harvest is to establish a viable social enterprise that creates training and employment opportunities in an economy that is putting increasing emphasis on local production; seeking remedies for community food insecurity and poor health; and in need of models that catalyze sustainable growth and development in underserved communities. Windy City Harvest brings tangible benefits to North Lawndale and the other neighborhoods it serves on Chicago's West side by providing fresh, organic produce to this recognized "food desert," as well as providing job training for residents and new jobs as production increases. Windy City Harvest will acheive the following objectives for 2010: 1) Recruit 15 to 20 trainees for the nine-month certificate training program and five apprentices for the extended growing season; 2) Grow and sell increasing amounts of organic crops in an urban setting; 3) Hire graduates as possible and help graduates with their job search through relationships with potential employers, including non-profit, City-affiliated, and for-profit businesses; and 4) Collaborate with a network of organizations concerned with food security and workforce development to supply affordable fresh produce to the community while creating new green jobs and entrepreneurship opportunities for graduates.
Project Methods
Windy City Harvest (WCH) cooperates with Daley College/Arturo Velasquez Institute (AVI), a campus of the City Colleges of Chicago, and a number of other organizations on Chicago's greater west side to recruit participants into the nine-month certificate program. In partnership with AVI, WCH is now a certified training provider under the federal Workforce Investment Act (WIA), which opens new avenues and resources to recruit and educate trainees with limitations such as low income, educational deficiencies, homelessness, history of incarceration, or employment dislocation. Forty percent of the trainees in the 2010 cohort have WIA limitations. WCH training and production activities take place at three sites: AVI; a production and training garden at the Cook County Sheriff's Boot Camp; and the quarter-acre USDA People's Garden site in West Garfield Park. The Boot Camp garden will serve 75 participants over three sessions in 2010, during which time 1,200 inmates will benefit from this visible example of the fruits of hard work: fresh vegetables at meals and a beautiful one acre garden that is expanding capacity by an additional acre to accommodate a composting facility. Chicago Botanic Garden staff have developed an accredited nine-month curriculum in sustainable urban horticulture and agriculture. The program integrates elements of various curricula, including material from the University of Santa Cruz, Michigan State University, and techniques developed by Eliot Coleman, master of year-round organic growing using organic methods and unheated hoophouses. The basic program structure includes six months of classroom and hands-on instruction, followed by a paid three-month internship. Up to five graduates will be hired by the Chicago Botanic Garden into five-month apprenticeships in cool-weather growing techniques in hoophouses and greenhouses. Starting in 2010, WCH is offering monthly "mini-courses" in sustainable home gardening for community residents. The Garden has also received funding through the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to pay two Boot Camp graduates to plant and maintain, from May-September, a dozen large planters at the James R. Thompson Center in downtown Chicago. Additionally, WCH is receiving a substantial appropriation from the Cook County Environmental Control department to create a composting site on county land immediately adjacent to the Boot Camp. Production and bagging of high grade compost that uses waste from the Boot Camp commissary represents an attractive revenue generating opportunity. Finally, a Native Seed Farming pilot project got underway in May 2010 at the Boot Camp site and in vacant lots in Bridgeport. Quantitative evaluation of WCH includes measures such as pounds of produce harvested, sales revenues, evaluation of written projects and exams, participant grades, and counts of community residents served through food distribution and education outreach. Qualitative measures include observations by instructors and supervisors to evaluate working knowledge and growing and business skills.

Progress 09/01/10 to 08/31/11

OUTPUTS: RECRUITMENT AND TRAINING OBJECTIVE: Windy City Harvest (WCH) received 57 applications for the 2011 certificate program and accepted 17 students, including three from the WCH garden program at the Cook County Sheriff's Boot Camp. Students participated in a nine month training program that included six months of participatory education experience and a three month paid internship. Internship organizations included Cityponics, Orozco School Garden, Enlace Pocket Parks, Mercy Hospital, Washington Park Consortium, City Farm, the Chicago Botanic Garden's Fruit & Vegetable Island, the Washington Park/Dyett High School Green Youth Farm, and WCH. Five individuals from the 2010 class participated in the apprenticeship program through February 2011. Given the strong employment outcomes for WCH graduates and the importance of work-study employment to interested Boot Camp graduates, the staff concluded that future apprenticeship funds would be better applied to work-study positions. In 2011, 81 Boot Camp residents participated in the garden program and 26 Boot Camp graduates received paid transitional work. Each transitional worker also participated in the Roots of Success curriculum, which introduces various green sector jobs and prepares participants for the job seeking process. EMPLOYMENT OBJECTIVE: WCH has graduated 41 individuals to date. Among the 14 graduates in 2011, one is founder and president of Dill Pickle Food Co-op, eight are in full-time employment, and four in part-time employment, with ten holding positions related to their training. Of the 27 who graduated in 2009 and 2010, 23 have stayed in contact. Among these, one is a full-time college student and 16 have full-time paid positions--14 in jobs related to their training; of the remaining six, three are in part-time positions and three in full-time volunteer positions in work related to their training. WCH provided a total of 21 transitional or seasonal jobs in 2011, serving 32 people. PRODUCTION OBJECTIVE: The total harvested to date in 2011, excluding Boot Camp, is 15,550 pounds. With $34,547 in sales, the program has exceeded both harvest and sales goals. At 10,821 pounds to date, Boot Camp will exceed its goal of 12,000 pounds. Food donations from WCH in 2011 total 15,057 pounds. DISSEMINATION: Angela Mason, director of community gardening at the Chicago Botanic Garden, gave presentations about the project at the following events: Chicagoland Green Collar Jobs Initiative, panel discussion, "Community Colleges and their role in Sustatainable Agriculture" (November 2011) and Family Farmed Expo, presentation, "Cool Season Production" (March 2011). Also in November, two WCH graduates, who came to the program through Boot Camp, traveled with Ms. Mason to the Community Food Security Coalition conference in Oakland, CA, where they co-presented on the topic "Engaging Alternative Populations in Sustainable Agriculture." PARTICIPANTS: The Chicago Botanic Garden's Windy City Harvest is offered in partnership with Richard J. Daley College/Arturo Velasquez Institute (AVI), a campus of the City Colleges of Chicago, and the Cook County Boot Camp, an alternative sentencing facility for non-violent male offenders, ages 18 to 35. This complementary partnership has been in place for the past three to five years and has steadily grown in strength and efficacy. WCH was launched at Daley College/AVI in 2007 and has broadened its reach every year, with additional gardens, hoophouses, and an aquaponic system, all with the support of Jean Johnson, Dean of Continuing Education. The garden established at the Boot Camp has also expanded to include hoophouses, a compost operation, and now an aquaponics system. Angela Mason, project director, Windy City Harvest manager and director of community gardening for the Chicago Botanic Garden, has worked closely with Frank Johnson, director of programs at the Boot Camp, to develop these many facets of the garden program. WCH is involved with the larger urban agriculture community in Chicago through Advocates for Urban Agriculture, which serves as a forum for discussion and action on common issues of concern. The AUA is creating a searchable database and GIS map of all organized urban farming activities in the Chicago area, and its members are working to advise the Chicago Zoning and Planning Department on a proposed agricultural zoning ordinance. Patsy Benveniste, VP of Community Education Programs at the Garden, is a member of AUA's steering committee and also serves as a member of the Agriculture Task Force of the Illinois Workforce Investment Board. A Chicago Green Collar Jobs Council task force, including the Garden, is mapping a jobs and career pathway for sustainable urban horticulture and agriculture. Additional funding from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, Workforce Development Office; Cook County Department of Environmental Control; the Institute of Museum and Library Services; and the Chicago Botanic Garden--have made possible several projects that employ seasonal and transitional jobs; these include a one-acre compost facility adjacent to the Boot Camp, decorative planters at James R. Thompson Center in downtown Chicago, and a pilot native seed garden in Bridgeport. TARGET AUDIENCES: Conditions in Chicago's North Lawndale neighborhood typify the kind of problems that WCH aims to address. In this west-side community, 45% of households and more than half of children under 18 live below the poverty level. The unemployment rate for 20 to 24 year olds is 60%. North Lawndale has been identified as a "food desert," and more than 46% of children in the community are obese, nearly 17% of newborns have low birth weight, and the infant mortality rate is 55% higher than the City as a whole. A 2002 study found that 57% of the adult population in North Lawndale was involved with the criminal justice system. When the formerly incarcerated do not get help to transition back into society, the result is ever higher recidivism rates--in Illinois, over 52% of released prisoners return to prison within 5 years. A recent study conducted by Loyola University, however, found that among its subjects, the formerly incarcerated who maintained employment for at least 30 days were 58% less likely to return to prison. While the effectiveness of transitional jobs as a step towards employment is still under assessment, it remains an important strategy. The most recent study ("Transitional Jobs Reentry Demonstration," MDRC, Bloom, 2010) was conducted during the most challenging job market since the Great Depression, so the results are not conclusive. Experience with transitional jobs at WCH has demonstrated that the timeframe for each position varies significantly. In truth, the optimum structure and timeframe for transitional jobs may be quite individual, and as a small program, WCH has the flexibility to respond to circumstantial needs. For example, WCH created work-study options for the three Boot Camp graduates interested in the nine-month community college certificate program. This approach enabled all three participants to commit to the program. The 2011 WCH class of 14 graduates includes eight WIA-eligible participants, including three ex-offenders, seven women and seven men, as well as four African-American, five Latino, and five Caucasian students. While ethnicity data is not available for the Boot Camp, staff members estimate that WCH trainees at Boot Camp are approximately 40% African-American, 40% Latino, 10% Asian, and 10% Caucasian. The program has evolved gradually into serving this carefully-balanced audience, and developed the necessary skills and resources along the way. Originally conceived as a training program focused on ex-offenders, the WCH pilot year revealed the difficulties of dealing exclusively with this population. Choices were made regarding the program's target audience and purpose so that today WCH focuses on training not only the formerly incarcerated but also low-income and other adults interested in urban agriculture. The successful completion of the nine-month certificate program by ex-offenders and WIA-eligible adults attests to effective assessments by WCH staff and their flexibility in adjusting and advancing the program. PROJECT MODIFICATIONS: With the sunset of stimulus funding and federal earmarks, the Chicago Botanic Garden is working in a number of ways to create new employment opportunities in sustainable urban agriculture for WCH graduates and transitional jobs for Boot Camp graduates. Recently, the Garden conducted a survey and market analysis for developing native seed farming as an additional income stream. From the survey came a list of native species of particular interest to local buyers; seeds for seven of the species are available through the Garden's Dixon National Tallgrass Prairie Seed Bank. Garden staff are currently developing a plan for integrating native seed growing and harvesting into WCH training. Knowledge of native plants will enhance students' marketable skills, as natives play an increasing role in the landscaping industry and green roof gardening. One native seed lot, located at Pershing and Union, has been developed and another is scheduled for site preparation in 2012. Seeds from the seven species have been started in the Garden's production greenhouse and will be transferred to a new hoophouse at the Boot Camp in late winter for planting in the spring. Other partnerships that will generate jobs and supply produce have come from the for-profit businesses rather than the non-profit sector in 2011. In June 2011, the opening of a food garden on the Northfield campus of Kraft Foods, Inc. marked a new development for WCH. Installed and maintained by a crew of Boot Camp graduates, and supervised by a WCH graduate, this 8,000 square foot garden has yielded 5,864 pounds of produce. Discussions are in progress with two additional corporations interested in gardens on their campuses. WCH was also approached by FarmedHere, LLC--an area business specializing in hydroponic, aquaponic, and aeroponic growing systems--with a request to add vertical farming systems and micro-farm business development to the certificate curriculum. WCH trainees are learning to operate the aquaponics system and receiving training modules, supplied by FarmedHere, in system mechanics and maintenance. FarmedHere is also cooperating with WCH in developing internships, jobs, and entrepreneurial opportunities for graduates. Another relationship is emerging with a Chicago-based real-estate developer who is building mixed-income housing in the Bronzeville neighborhood. In 2012, WCH will establish a two-acre food garden on land adjacent to a new housing development. The garden will include farm-business incubators to support two budding entrepreneurs and a one-and-a-half-acre production garden that will employ a seasonal grower. Also under discussion are an expansion of WCH gardens to sites adjacent to the Cook County Boot Camp; the development of an associate degree in cooperation with the Chicago community college system; and additional certifications in urban agriculture entrepreneurship, aquaponics, food safety and preservation, rooftop fruit and vegetable gardening, composting, and native plant gardening.

Student knowledge outcomes were measured by quizzes, lab assignments, a written and oral presentation on an agricultural topic of the student's choice, a pass-fail grade on the internship experience, and a business plan for a small horticultural or agricultural enterprise. Student grades at the completion of the 2011 program were eight A's, five B's, and one C. The quality of learning outcomes is borne out by the success of WCH graduates in securing employment. WCH has established a reputation as a quality source for skilled workers in urban agriculture in Chicago and beyond. Enterprises employing graduates include City Farm, Growing Power, Uncommon Ground, and Angelic Organics, as well as the Chicago Botanic Garden. Several graduates have also become successful entrepreneurs, and one is working with a community college in Florida to establish a program similar to WCH. Boot Camp workers demonstrated their acquired knowledge and skills by maintaining a flourishing garden, which has yielded 10,821 pounds to date in 2011. They also participated in two new construction projects. Students and staff constructed a 22' x 30' passive solar hoophouse, which will serve as a solar paneled greenhouse for native seed starts. Additionally, they constructed an aquaponics system, which consists of two tanks--1,200 and 300 gallons--and 400 square feet of growing beds for vegetables and spices. Using high output fluorescent lighting, the system grows organic produce and fresh fish year-round, taking advantage of the symbiotic relationship between the fish and plants. Both the hoophouse and the aquaponics system will provide additional winter work assignments for Boot Camp participants in the residential garden program. The transformative effect of the Boot Camp program is perhaps best exemplified in the change in three Boot Camp graduates who recently completed the nine-month WCH certificate program, a change summed up in a graduation speech given by one of them: "All of us have come from different walks of life, some people play in rock bands, some of us go to church every weekend, some of us ride bikes and pass out fliers all night, some of us are babysitters, some of us are booking agents, and some of us were convicted felons who were in jail. [We all] decided to change our lives for the better, and WCH and the Chicago Botanic Garden helped us do that. It feels great to accomplish something that you've never done in your life, the satisfaction, and that deep breath that you take from it after you are complete." Garden staff continue to work with the three men post-graduation to secure mentored, unsubsidized job placements, including possible positions at Windy City Harvest and a local food wholesaler. An additional five Boot Camp graduates have been accepted into the 2012 WCH certificate cohort and four are employed by WCH during their transition.


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