Urban Growers turn Chicago’s front yard into a garden

(Published May 30, 2019)

By Elisa Shoenberger, staff writer

It’s a farm on the front yard of Chicago.

That’s how Erika Allen, co-founder of Urban Growers Collective (UGC), explains Art on the Farm, located in Grant Park at the intersection of Congress and Columbus.

This urban farm grows over 150 varieties of edible flowers and vegetables, including swiss chard, leeks, edible pansies, celery, tiny peppers, sunflowers, and more. The produce is then loaded onto their Fresh Moves Mobile Market, city buses doubling as mobile farmers markets and sold around the city.

Besides farming, the UGC offer agriculture-related educational programs for high schoolers and Art on the Farm hosts afterschool and six-week summer programs for teenagers to work on the urban garden.

“It’s public land that we are using a portion of the city’s landscape budget to grow food,” Allen said. She pointed out that by being in the proverbial front yard of the city, the program signals to the world the importance of the garden program.

Residents and tourists stop by the farm and talk to UGC volunteers and staff and UGC offers tours. The farm is also visited by birds. Allen noted a regular visitor to the farm, a Kirtland’s Warbler, was making waves amongst Chicago’s birding community for its rarity.

Allen founded Art on the Farm in 2005 through her organization, Growing Power. Adam Schwerner, the past Director for the Department of Cultural and Natural Resources at the Chicago Park District, was instrumental in helping Allen make the project happen. When Growing Power closed in 2017, Allen and co-founder Laurell Sims opened Urban Growers Collective in 2017.

Allen said one challenge has been balancing the farm’s productivity with its beauty. The farm started with straight beds, though now the beds are arranged in various shapes and Allen said the best view is probably from above.

For more information about UGC, their tours, products and other programming, visit their website, urbangrowerscollective.org.

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