Iron Street

Inspired by Will Allen’s recent visit hosted by the Stiletto Gardener, Local Matters, Hounds in the Kitchen, and Franklin Park Conservatory…. as well as the recent Community Engagement conversation hosted by the Food & Wellness Committee of the WPCCA, OSU Architecture, Local Matters, & MORPC at the Godman Guild….

A team from OSU Knowlton School of Architecture hit the road to check out Iron Street in Chicago, Illinois and a representative of 4th Street Farms was fortunate to be invited as a guest on the trip to share the results more widely.  Iron Street is run by Erica Allen, who is Will Allen’s daughter noted for her leadership in youth programming bringing together art, creative writing, public speaking, teamwork and leadership development  through urban agriculture.

This 7-acre site bordered by the Chicago River is located in the Bridgeport Neighborhood of Chicago at 3333 South Iron Street. Previously an abandoned industrial site, the renovated Iron Street property serves as the City’s first “green” campus.

It provides healthy/sustainable food, composting, employment and educational opportunities, and green community development.  Chicago Youth Corps is one of Iron Street’s project focused on entrepreneurial youth development and apprenticeship.

It offers youth from low-income backgrounds both academic and professional experience. Young people learn a wide range of transferrable skills while participating with the urban farm projects and take that knowledge to the streets with their Food Literacy Project.

Supporters of Growing Power’s Youth Corps include the City of Chicago’s After School Matters and Heifer Project International. “By bringing together food related activities that are typically dispersed, an urban farm as a community food center allows for an integrated approach to addressing many community-related concerns”, says Erica Allen.  

At Iron Street, Erica leads youth programs with creativity and collaboration.  Empowering youth with step-by-step design projects, such as food inspired murals, her background as  as art education teacher certainly shows.  And, being her father’s daughter, the center is complete with hoop houses, vermiculture, and aquaponics.  Each one of these represents a great project for teens to work on, learning teamwork, planning, coordination, and most importantly pride in accomplishment.

Hoop House: Covered with plastic in the winter, it extends the growing season year round.

Vermiculture: Creating organic fertilizer with worms, it is both odorless and amazing!

Aquaponics: Closed system cycling fish emulsion to hydroponic beds of water cress and tomatoes.

Iron Street not only produces food, but also sells it in a CSA program called Market Basket. The Farm-to-City Market Basket Program consists of weekly deliveries of safe, healthy and affordable produce to neighborhoods throughout Milwaukee, Madison, and Chicago.  This program is run on a weekly basis, so that customers may engage at a pace that is right for them.

During the spring, summer, and fall months, the majority of the produce found in the Market Basket comes from:

  • Growing Power’s Farms in Milwaukee, Merton, and Will Allen’s Farm in Oak Creek; and
  • The Rainbow Farmer’s Cooperative, a collective of small, family farmers.

During the winter months, produce comes from:

  • Growing Power’s greenhouses in Milwaukee;
  • The Rainbow Farmer’s Cooperative, relying on farmers in the South and on storage crops such as onions, potatoes, and sweet potatoes; and
  • Small-scale, locally or family owned wholesalers such as Goodness Greeness in Chicago.  These wholesalers keep fresh fruits and vegetables not grown locally during the winter, such as apples, head lettuce, and peppers, available and affordable year-round and provide local jobs in our community — the very essence of a Community Food System.

Iron Street represents one model that is really interesting because it unites youth programming with food production, processing, preparation, and distribution.  There is a lot to learn from Iron Street and consider about what resonates and what doesn’t for Weinland Park.

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