Urban Growers Collective

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Urban Growers Collective is a non-profit dedicated to creating economic opportunity and increasing access to nutritious food in Chicago.

The organization operates eight urban farms, mostly located on the South Side, where it produces fresh food and provides opportunities for education and leadership training. By collaborating with organizations of all kinds, Urban Growers Collective is able to reach communities across the city. At Gotham Greens, we partner with the non-profit by donating our plant seedlings to their community gardens. We also provide our local greens to their Fresh Moves Mobile Markets, which are then distributed to schools and community health centers throughout Chicago.

Before the pandemic, 39 percent of households in Chicago’s Cook County were not able to afford necessities such as food, according to the United for ALICE project. During COVID-19, food insecurity tripled for families with children, and Urban Growers Collective acted quickly to form an emergency food relief squad. Since March, Urban Growers Collective has distributed a million pounds of food and more than 13,000 boxes of fresh produce. The organization’s approach has allowed them to help feed impacted communities while also supporting BIPOC-led businesses in Chicago. 

We spoke with our friends Laurell and Darion of Urban Growers Collective about their mission, experiences and impact during this difficult year. (We’re also proud to share that Laurell, Co-Founder and CEO of Urban Growers Collective, was chosen as a fellow for the James Beard Foundation’s Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Program!)

A few words from the Urban Growers Collective team:

Laurell Sims, Co-Founder and CEO, Finance: Urban Grower’s Collective is a Black- and women-led non-profit farm in Chicago aiming to address the inequities and structural racism that exist in the food system and in communities of color. Rooted in growing food, Urban Growers Collective’s aim is to cultivate nourishing environments which support health, economic development, healing and creativity through urban agriculture.

Urban Growers Collective believes in moving from a charity-based model to one of resilience. To accomplish this, our work focuses on two main objectives – education and food access. Education begins at the community level, from providing over 170 teens with agricultural jobs through after-school and summer programs to training 30 Black and Brown men on the South Side in landscaping and farming through a two-year job-placement program. The organization also offers educational workshops, community growing plots, and an Incubator Farming Program for emerging BIPOC farmers. You can learn more about their educational programs and how to get involved at urbangrowerscollective.org.

Darion Crawford, Urban Farmer and Instructor: I started with Urban Growers Collective with youth corps, and am now a youth and adult instructor here. We do youth corps training around good food, food justice and urban agriculture. We’re teaching folks skills like hoop house construction, soil and land remediation, and building community gardens and farms. That’s what our work is centered around – reaching out to food deserts, urban communities, showing folks how to use their land and space to grow and develop their own social and economic systems.

Laurell Sims, Co-Founder and CEO, Finance: Gotham Greens’ seedlings, from gorgeous lettuces to delicious herbs, are distributed to partner organizations like ours. We grow these seedlings at our seven urban farms in Chicago – totaling 11-acres of production – to feed customers on the South and West-Sides of Chicago. Produce is sold at Urban Growers Collective’s Fresh Moves Mobile Market, a grocery store on wheels, which serves 15 neighborhoods in Chicago that lack access to fresh produce. The Fresh Moves Mobile Market re-launched on November 9th. Check out its schedule and follow the bus at @freshmoveschi.

Black and Brown communities have been hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. During this crisis, it is critical to provide access to nutritionally dense produce to boost immunity and keep neighbors that are struggling fed. Gotham Greens has donated lettuce to folks most affected. Since March of 2020, Urban Growers Collective has donated over 14,000 boxes, and coordinated another 19,000 USDA boxes, distributing more than one million pounds of produce to neighborhoods most in need of immunity-boosting foods. While our goal is resilience work, we also know that mutual aid to create a safety net is needed during this unprecedented time.

Creating safe spaces at farm sites is an integral part of Urban Growers Collective’s work. Malcolm Evans, now 27 years-old is the Farm Manager for Urban Growers Collective. In his words, “I started coming down to the farm that we had in Cabrini Green when I was 10 years old in 2003. When I was 12 years old, I had the opportunity to help build out the farm we have in Grant Park. Before we had the farm at Grant, I didn’t think that downtown Chicago was for Black kids. The Gold Coast was full of rich people and the farthest we ever got to downtown was the McDonalds on Chicago Avenue. Once we started going to Grant Park Farm every day, I began to know that the Lakefront and the parks are for everyone.  The first year we had 15 kids in our program downtown, and I think we all felt that way; that by the end of the program we belonged downtown, too. Now we have 45 teens in our Grant Park program, and those teens give free tours during the summer of the garden. It has opened up a new world to teens who never felt at home in our city.”

Follow along here to learn more about what the Urban Growers Collective team has been up to and find out how you can get involved. 

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