Program Excellence Award
Founded in 2003, Windy City Harvest (WCH) is the Chicago Botanic Garden’s urban agriculture division, driven by a mission to leverage the power of Chicago’s food system to address environmental sustainability, economic prosperity, and community health. WCH has built its programs in partnership with more than 80 community partners, and its staff is comprised of over 50 percent WCH alumni, who understand the needs and assets of the communities they work in.
WCH is deeply embedded in Chicago’s food system, growing from a single farm site to its current 16. During that time, WCH built a series of programs that uplift communities by increasing food access and annually training 130 teens, 35 justice-involved individuals, 20 farm apprentices, 110 participants in continuing education. WCH’s farm incubator supports six businesses annually with land, access to markets, pro-bono business/legal consultation, aggregation, and mentorship for up to five years.
WCH farms are located in communities with high rates of food-insecurity. As WCH trainees farm, they provide food to residents through reduced-price sales, donations, and affordable community markets, increasing the availability of locally grown food in Chicago. In 2016, WCH launched the VeggieRx prescription produce program. In 2019, VeggieRx partnered with PCC Community Wellness Center (PCC), Lawndale Christian Health Center (LCHC), and Loyola University Health System (LUHS) to provide more than 18,600 pounds of produce to people with diet-related illnesses, along with weekly nutrition education and cooking lessons in both English and Spanish. Each of these partners has embraced agriculture and food access as healthcare strategies by creating healthcare gardens with WCH. Annually, WCH farm sites grow more than 120,000 pounds of produce, feeding the immediate community with over 62 percent of the harvest.
In 2018, WCH opened its headquarters, the Farm on Ogden, in partnership with LCHC. The Farm is many things: a food hub, aggregating produce from 16 sites, including 6 incubator farms; a community education space; a commercial kitchen for creating value-added goods from damaged produce; and a healthy corner store that sells low cost produce and sundry goods. Each year, the Farm serves thousands of youth and adults with direct training programs and drop-in events and remains a flourishing indoor garden and thriving learning space for LCHC patients, community residents, and urban farm trainees and entrepreneurs.
In 2019, the Farm was honored with the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Award for Outstanding Non-Profit Neighborhood Real Estate Project at the LISC - Chicago Neighborhood Development Awards. WCH and LCHC share a belief that community health encompasses more than offering affordable, quality healthcare. It must also include access to healthy food and nutrition education, living wage employment, new business opportunities, and nurturing green spaces. Through its strong partnerships and deep neighborhood roots, WCH remains committed to building lasting community health and wellness for years to come.
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