The award-winning Uptown Farmers Market and Urban Rooftop Farm is coming to life for a third season at Vanguard Weiss Memorial Hospital in Chicago. This past November, the farm and market won Illinois’ prestigious Governor’s Hometown Award for Chicago.
“We started a conversation on healthy living two years ago by setting up the urban farm and farmer’s market in Uptown. The community is now embracing it,” said Terry Tuohy, director of volunteer services at Weiss and mastermind behind the project. Tuohy had hoped the efforts would make a social impact on the diverse neighborhood surrounding the hospital.
This year’s firsts include:
- Illinois LINK Cards: Given to citizens eligible for cash assistance from the state government. An estimated 10,000 households in Uptown use LINK cards, so more low-income residents can enjoy fresh, healthy food choices.
- Community Gardens: Weiss will invite community members, including a number of refugee groups, to join volunteer farmers atop the hospital’s parking garage to grow their own fruits, vegetables and herbs in raised planter boxes. Weiss also will expand its urban farm to a nearby lot at ground level.
- Business/Neighborhood Outreach: Weiss will broaden its scope of crop to accommodate local restaurants’ requests for fresh, seasonal ingredients to add to their dishes. In addition, Weiss is welcoming vendors who grow their produce at other community gardens throughout the city to sell their goods at the Uptown Farmers Market.
The Uptown Farmers Market at Weiss runs outdoors every Thursday from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. through October 25. Across the street from the market, farmers Jed Schenkier and Will Pool maintain 20 planter boxes around the rim of the parking garage and more than 15 raised beds between parking spots. These beds contain seasonal fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, spinach, kale, watermelon and basil. They use compost from food waste collected at the hospital and throughout the community; they hydrate the crops with water collected in rain barrels. The farmers also maintain an apiary of 150,000 bees, which pollinate within a 3-mile radius of Weiss.
The farmers have educated students and community members through tours, and now will assist interested neighbors as they tend their own plots on the rooftop farm and at an additional nearby plot of land at ground level. “This is all about empowering the community through urban agriculture,” said Pool. “We’re educating these farmers on how to grow healthy food for themselves and even how to be self-reliant by selling some of it.”
A portion of the crop grown will go on sale at the farmers market. Much of the money earned will keep the urban farm operating; however, the hospital also donates some of the crop to local soup kitchens and shelters, and Weiss chefs use some of it for hospital dishes.
The farmers market also integrates free health screenings, informational talks from dieticians and farmers, and cooking demonstrations by local chefs. Diabetes and obesity are the most pressing concerns in the community. “The first step to combating these diseases is eating right,” Tuohy said.