Help Build Iron Street Farm on Chicago's Southside

Jul 23, 2014

Youth Programming on Chicago's Southside

During the past few months Growing Power Chicago has focused primarily on youth programming, as well as prepping the farm for the growing season. Our Spring After School Matters Program ended on May 22nd, making way for our Summer After School Matters program to begin on Monday, June 23. After School Matters (ASM) is s a non-profit organization that offers Chicago high school teens innovative out-of-school activities through Science, Sports, Tech, Words and the nationally recognized Gallery programs. Growing Power has partnered with ASM for a number of years, providing Chicago teens with skills in sustainable urban agriculture and local community food system development. Aside from learning hands-on concrete skills such as planting, weeding, watering, harvesting, compost production, sales, and marketing; youth are also immersed in life skills training in the form of work ethic and appropriate work place socialization.

During our Spring ASM program we had 19 teens from Altgeld Gardens and Carver High School participating, working 16 hours a week, for 6 weeks. For our Summer ASM program, teens will work a total of 96 program hours over a 6 week period at the Altgeld Garden Community Farm and Carver Military High School. We have 18 students currently enrolled and on track to successfully complete all 6 weeks of our Summer ASM program. This partnership has provided us with a great opportunity to offer programming for teens 14-15 who are not yet eligible for Chicago’s Summer Youth Employment Program. During both the Spring and Summer ASM programs teens receive a stipend upon completion of the 6 week period.

The Altgeld Garden Community Farm empowers neighborhood youth and residents to have increased economic opportunities through access to organic produce, food system development, nutritional education, and work-force training. One of our primary objectives is teaching teens about food production and food security through hands on work at the farm. Teens grow organic vegetables, herbs and flowers and participate in all phases of production (watering, weeding, harvesting, marketing, composting, etc.). This summer all teens will have hand-on learning and practical experience with the composting process. They will also help tremendously with infrastructure development. Teens will help to build compost beds on the remaining 2 acres of farm and also do general site beautification. This summer, teens will also have the opportunity to gain basic carpentry skills through the construction of hoop houses onsite.

A critical component to our program curriculum objectives is food system literacy and community engagement and awareness. Teens complete several activities to better understand the complexities of our modern food system, and to identify opportunities to create a more food secure community in Altgeld Gardens. Through our program, teens gain a better understanding of food systems and all the players involved in bringing food to our plates every day. Once that foundation is built, we then dig deeper and explore food security and ultimately food justice. Teens also participate in weekly culinary workshops during which they prepare food from the garden.

Our ASM programming also assists teens in refining their college and career readiness skills. We hold workshops during the course of the program that focus primarily on interviewing, resume building and personal marketing. During “Interviewing 101” teens use mock interviews to better prepare for the interview process. They participate in mock interviews to apply for their dream job/college and provide peer-to-peer evaluation and feedback on their performance. Our Resume Building Workshop assists teens in the importance of developing a thoughtful resume and identifying their skills, education and experience relative to their college and career goals. They also work on making a first good impression to potential employers by developing a two minute pitch to best introduce themselves and highlight their skills and abilities. In addition to the workshops, we do several theater and role-playing activities to prepare for future jobs. Teens explore topics such as conflict resolution, accountability and appropriate workplace socialization. Teens also complete several journaling activities that provided a space for self-reflection and goal setting.

We have very high-expectations for each of the teens that participate in our programming. By maintaining high expectations and consistent boundaries with our teens, we ensure that we meet several of our career readiness objectives such as: emphasizing the importance of timeliness, work ethic and character, problem solving on the job and interpersonal communication amongst co-workers and supervisors.

Apr 17, 2014

Farmers for Chicago

Farmers For Chicago
Farmers For Chicago

In 2013, Growing Power Chicago received a three year grant from the USDA through the Community Food Projects program to address the concerns of food insecurity and economic disinvestment in low-income communities of Chicago. Through advanced training and farm and marketing infrastructure development, Growing Power will work with food desert communities to secure land, build farms and mentor farmers within designated food desert communities. New farmers will be provided with opportunities for land access through a new 7-acre urban farm in partnership with the Chicago Park District and other city owned land as well as shared infrastructure and resources (compost, seeds, tools, hoop house construction).

The project, which is now underway, will provide new farmers and food entrepreneurs direct market access for their product through a new aggregation pilot that will provide fresh produce to a variety of commercial retailers, corner stores, farmers’ markets, and local businesses. We are currently working with three local organizations that specifically address food insecurity in the Roseland and Washington Park neighborhoods: Inner City Muslim Action Network (IMAN); Southside Education and Economic Development Systems (S.E.E.D.S.); and Keep Loving Each Other (KLEO).

Through this grant Growing Power Chicago started offering a workshop series that provide hands-on training in creating and maintaining urban farms for individuals. The series began in February and will run through May. Individual workshops concentrate on a variety of sustainable farming topics covering: project planning; marketing; Good Agricultural Practices; dismantling racism in the food system; beekeeping; composting; and hoop house construction.

The Farmers for Chicago project, which will conclude in 2016, aims to provide training to:

  • 50 new farmers to receive direct training and farm incubation support.
  • 150 farmers to benefit from shared infrastructure support.
  • 1500 individuals to receive training and educational opportunities in urban agriculture via workshops offered at Iron Street Urban Farm
  • 900 youth are provided with meaningful work experience in urban agriculture.
  • 30 commercial retailers and independent corner storeowners increase the availability of fresh food in their businesses.
Dec 17, 2013

Growing Power 2013 Highlights

Dear Friends,

As we approach the end of 2013, we have a lot to be thankful for:  family, friends, health and Good Food.  Locally, our Good Food System is growing in many positive ways, yet there is much more that needs to be done in building a just Good Food System in our community and communities around the country and the world.  In 2012, we stated that we would like to increase the amount of Good Food in our community from less than 1% to 10%.  At 10%, locally grown Good Food would change the dynamics of our community.  It would affect the health of our citizens as well as impact job creation and, overall, impact the local economy.  Growing Power is already making that impact.  With the increase of 25 acres of greenhouses and 300 acres of outside production, we continue to grow our local food system.

What we need now is for all institutions to come together to keep growing the Good Food Revolution.  Corporations, medical institutions, colleges and universities, planners, politicos, architects, engineers and most importantly every citizen should all be sitting at the community table and planning the next steps in the Good Food Revolution.  We cannot continue to live in a community where 34% of our children live in poverty, three out of ten young people go to bed every night without a meal, and diabetes and obesity continue to rise among youth.  These conditions lead to cancer and other debilitating diseases.  We must act now.  We must stop eating food that has low nutritional value and make our Good Food our medicine. 

The only way to end the health care crisis is to grow healthy people.  Growing Power has made big strides towards building the health of our next generation.  In 2013 we installed 50 day care gardens in Milwaukee,  grew 500,000 pounds of carrots for regional school systems (including Milwaukee Public Schools), installed several school gardens and developed classroom curriculum that meets the STEM requirements.  We also taught hundreds of Milwaukee area youth nutritional education through our Youth Corps program and through partnerships with other youth based non-profits.  We know that good eating habits start at a young age and Growing Power is working to instill these habits in Milwaukee’s youth.

We must also continue to grow our food system.  We must grow healthy soil.  In 2013 Growing Power collected 40 million pounds of food and carbon waste that was used to grow healthy high fertility soil.  We need to grow new farmers. During this past year Growing Power trained over 1000 farmers from all over the United States on how to grow this Good Food.   We need to grow new food sources.  Currently Growing Power is working with the School of Freshwater Sciences to grow healthy fish as a local protein source.

Looking forward I know that we can continue to grow the Good Food Revolution.  However, in order for our growth to meet the demand we need community minded people to invest in our cause.   We hope that you will continue to support Growing Power in the new year, because “Together We Are Growing Power”.  Please enjoy the attached document that outlines our successes during 2013.


Happy Holidays to You & All!

Will Allen

Farmer, Founder & CEO



Sep 9, 2013

Productive Summer at Growing Power Chicago

We are happy to report that this summer has been one of our busiest and most prosperous summers yet.  We continued to build existing partnerships and create new ones, increased production and our outreach efforts.  Below is a list of specific activities performed during this quarter:


  • We worked with 230 teens during this summer at our Chicago farms, teaching grow bed construction, seeding and planting, harvesting, marketing produce to their communities, cooking and nutrition.
  •  A new partnership with Working Bikes, a Chicago based non-profit, was launched to teach our teens bicycle repair and safety.  Teens learned how to fix-up salvaged bikes, how to safely navigate city streets, and how to transport produce via bike cart.  More than 200 teens were certified through this program.
  • Staff maintained our seven active farm sites totaling 7 acres of vegetable production.  Vegetables included tomatoes, cucumbers, okra, eggplant and  greens. Our Chicago crew is selling our produce at farmers markets and stand across the city of Chicago.   We will be breaking ground soon on our newest farm site in partnership with the Chicago Park District.  This 7 acre site will include an urban orchard, a community garden and will incubate 5-10 farmers with the launch of our “Farmers for Chicago” project.
  •  Our Chicago farm launched sprout production during this past summer.  You can purchase local pea shoots and sunflower micro-greens at our Iron Street Farm location.
  • Growing Power benefited from a recent change in State of Illinois composting laws.  This change will allow us to significantly increase our compost production at our Iron Street facility.  We are processing 60,000 lbs of produce, brewery mash and wood chips monthly at this location.
  •  We are working with Tru Blooms Fragrance Company to grow florals at our Grant Farm park to be used to create a hyper-local perfume.  This year, our farmers grew lavender, two varieties of roses, patchouli and rose scented geranium for the perfume company.
May 10, 2013

Spring has Sprung at Iron Street Urban Farm

Little Debbie
Little Debbie

Spring is finally here in Chicago and we have some wonderful updates to share with you at Iron Street Urban Farm.

  1. We have goats.

Yes, you read that correctly- Iron Street Urban Farm now has two adorable pygmy goats. Welcome Little Debbie and Billy Ray Valentine to the Growing Power Family!

If you can't tell, our staff and youth absolutely love our new furry friends.

(teaser: we got chicken on the way too!)

2. Compost, compost, compost!

The Growing Power Chicago crew built our first of four 96ft hoop houses to expand our compost operation. Each hoop will contain a compost windrow that will be able to accommodate 100 tons of food and carbon waste!

Iron Street Urban Farm is currently picking up thousands of pounds of food waste from local restaurants, breweries, bakeries, and organic wholesalers every week. As we expand our capacity, we will be able to grow even more fertile soil to grow healthy fruits and veggies all year round.

3. Youth Micro Enterprise

Mothers' Day is right around the corner! Still don't know what to get Mom? Well, Growing Power Youth Corps have been hard at work making beautiful bath and garden items to celebrate the holiday. This weekend, we will be featuring two different gift baskets you can purchase:

   -Beauty Basket: Includes hand made bath bombs, sugar scrubs, soaps, scented oils, and fragrance sprays featuring lavender and roses grown in Growing Power's TruBlooms Fragrance Garden in Chicago's Grant Park. ($30)

  -Garden Basket: Includes worm castings, seed bombs, seeds, garden gloves, and a hand-painted flower pot for Mom to get her garden started! ($30)

You can pick up your Mothers' Day baskets at Growing Power's markets this Saturday (5/11/2013) at Green City Market in Lincoln Park, 61st Street Market in Woodlawn, and Iron Street's Farm Stand here in Bridgeport. Purchase your mother something hand crafted by these amazing youth. Only a limited number of baskets will be available so come get yours quick!

GP Production Manager, Laurell, and Billy Ray!
GP Production Manager, Laurell, and Billy Ray!
Teens helping construct the new compost hoop house
Teens helping construct the new compost hoop house
Beauty Gift Baskets made by Growing Power Teens
Beauty Gift Baskets made by Growing Power Teens
Dominique finishing her Mother
Dominique finishing her Mother's Day Gift Basket!

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Project Leader

Erika Allen

Chicago, IL United States

Where is this project located?

Map of Help Build Iron Street Farm on Chicago's Southside