The lot across from Velda Brunner’s home on the 300 block of North Lotus Avenue in the Austin neighborhood has been there for years, she said. And after the owner of the property lost it to foreclosure, it became a flat dump filled with garbage and debris.
“We constantly had to call 311 for someone to come out here and pick up the garbage and debris that they left behind,” Brunner said.
The lot is no longer an eyesore. The PCC Austin Community Wellness Center bought the property and Wednesday, community groups and elected officials from the West Side broke ground on what will be a community farm by next year.
“It’s a blessing,” Brunner said. And she’ll soon be able to purchase her favorite vegetable — green tomatoes — at the farm, while having another option to buy produce besides the closest Jewel-Osco grocery store, which is nearly two miles away on West Madison Street in Oak Park, she added.
The community farm project has been in the works for a few years, said Jinnene Hoggarth, development coordinator and birth center manager at PCC. And with a $350,000 grant from the Humana Foundation, people within the community will see there are sustainable, productive and healthy options with urban agriculture, she said.
The funding will be paid out over three years, Hoggarth said. In the first year, $200,000 will be released, $100,000 for the second year and the remaining $50,000 the third year.
The first year, much of the grant will be used to create and build the farm over the 8,000-square-foot lot, transforming the empty, garbage dump it has become.
“Most of that is going toward farm build and maintenance,” Hoggarth said. Funds will used to purchase garden beds, tools and a storage shed, she added.
Chicago’s Windy City Harvest, an educational and transitional job development program for youth that is part of the Chicago Botanic Garden, will assist in building and maintaining the farm for the first few years, Hoggarth said. People within the community are also welcome to volunteer on this project.
When the garden is up and running, produce will be sold to retailers and people within the community, Hoggarth said.
At Wednesday’s groundbreaking, Congressman Danny K. Davis (D-Chicago), said the redeveloping of urban America won’t be easy.
“Some people will look at it and say, ‘Oh it’s some people (who) will be out there digging in the ground, digging up a little dirt,’” Davis said. “But it’s much more than that. It’s part of the greening of America. It’s part of figuring out new ways with new technology to regrow and redevelop our communities. And it’s a way of improving the quality of life.”