Growing Solutions with Chicago’s West Side

August 9, 2022
Growing Solutions Farm received a SARE grant to enhance their sustainable growing program in Chicago that engages with young, diverse, West Side learners. Tucker Kelly (right) with Growing Solutions Farm passes a bin of produce to Linda Wygant of Grace Seeds Ministries. The farm shares fresh produce with food pantries through a partnership with Grace Seeds Ministries. Photo courtesy of Urban Autism Solutions.

Located in Chicago’s West Side neighborhood, Urban Autism Solutions’ (UAS) Growing Solutions Farm offers an urban agriculture and vocational training site for young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Their 1.2-acre farm is a training environment where young adults ages 16-22 can learn about urban and sustainable agriculture and develop transferable job skills. The farm has growing plots, a high hoop house, a cooling shed, composting bins, and an outdoor tented classroom.

In 2018, the organization offered its first Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares to 12 subscribers. With support from a $3,905 NCR-SARE Youth Educator Grant, UAS set out to expand its educational opportunities, increase its CSA offerings, and share more produce with its community.
Through classroom instruction and hands-on experiences, program participants learned more about preparing the soil, creating composting systems, maintaining crops, planting seeds and seedlings, and weeding garden beds. They harvested, tended, and packaged produce to sell at farmer’s markets alongside Growing Solutions Farm’s lead grower, Tucker Kelly. The participants also hosted farm tours and helped package shares for the farm’s CSA program.

UAS offers an 8-box CSA share from June to September with salad greens, kale, herbs, tomatoes, cucumbers, and more. Their onsite farm stand is open two days per week. In partnership with Grace Seeds Ministry, twenty percent of the weekly crop gets donated to West Side food pantries and program participants.

“For 2022, we are at capacity with 30 CSA subscribers,” said UAS Executive Director Heather Tarczan. “We’re grateful to have people who donate CSA subscriptions to community members in need.”

UAS is also at capacity with educational program participants for 2022. Thirty young adults from West Side Chicago Public High School transition programs are working and learning at Growing Solutions Farm this summer.

“The farm is an exceptional place; it is a safe environment that nurtures and helps one grow,” said Tarczan. “Through the support of organizations like NCR-SARE, we can support and help make transformative experiences in the lives of those that would not have this kind of opportunity otherwise.”

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Topics: Community Development
Related Locations: Illinois, North Central