Weiss Memorial Hospital Cultivates its Urban Rooftop Farm & Uptown Farmers Market in Fourth Season of Planting

More of the community gets involved in healthy eating effort

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CHICAGO (June 3, 2013) — As the Uptown Farmers Market—Chicago’s only hospital-based farmers market—prepares to move outdoors for the fourth season this Thursday, June 6 from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m., volunteers nurture an environment atop Weiss Memorial Hospital’s parking garage to get more of their neighbors engaged in the community gardening process at the Urban Rooftop Farm.“We’ve developed nearly 20 new beds this season that are open to the community we serve,” said Terry Tuohy, director of volunteer services at Weiss and mastermind behind this growing project. The additions bring the number of farming plots to 35. “There’s a lot you can do in a small space, and we’re making a footprint here by engaging more people in a healthy lifestyle,” Tuohy added. “Our goal always has been to get more community involvement and make a social impact on the diverse neighborhood surrounding the hospital.”

The Uptown Farmers Market and Urban Rooftop Farm at Weiss received the 2011 Governor’s Home Town Award, which recognized the hospital for going above and beyond in making its community a better place to live.

Since the award, Weiss has accommodated even more patrons at the Farmers Market by accepting VISA and MasterCard for an increasing quantity of items purchased, and Illinois LINK Cards for neighbors 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 at affordable prices. The hospital strives to make healthy eating accessible to everyone from senior citizens to young children—no matter their income level.

Weiss also will broaden its scope of market vendors by welcoming growers of more ethnic crops in demand from local restaurants. For the past three years, vendors from the Chicago area and beyond have sold fresh produce at the farmers market. Other products sold at the Farmers Market include bread, brownies, honey, meat, cheese, dried soups, jewelry and soaps.

In addition, each week there’s a presence of one of the many hunger initiatives in the Uptown/ Rogers Park areas including Northside Anti-Hunger Network and Heartland Alliance. The organizations promote awareness of hunger issues, and patrons of the farmers market and farmers themselves donate fresh fruits and vegetables weekly to their causes.

For the Urban Rooftop Farm’s part, Weiss invites additional community members – including a number of refugee groups and students from the nearby Uplift Community High School – to grow their own fruits, vegetables and herbs in raised planter boxes. Weiss volunteer farmers Jed Schenkier and Will Pool take the lead, nurturing the crop and coaching community members in their growing efforts.

Weiss has 20 planter boxes around the rim of the parking garage roof and more than 35 raised beds, which contain seasonal fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, spinach, kale, watermelon and basil. Urban farmers plant their crops using compost from food waste collected at the hospital; they hydrate the crops with water collected in rain barrels. The farmers also maintain an apiary of 500,000 bees, which pollinate within a 3-mile radius of Weiss and produce about five gallons of honey a season. And a chicken coop houses some 20 hens that lay eggs daily.

The farmers also educate students and community members through tours. “We want to empower the community through urban agriculture,” Schenkier said. “We’re helping neighbors grow healthy food for themselves and even be self-reliant by selling some of it at the market.”

About 15 of the beds are dedicated to Weiss. A portion of the crop grown will go on sale at the farmers market. Much of the money earned will keep the farm operating; however, the hospital also donates a portion of the crop to local soup kitchens and shelters, and Weiss chefs use some of it for hospital dishes.

New this year to the Urban Rooftop Farm is a greenhouse, so urban farmers started developing the crop earlier in the spring – in March.

The Farmers Market also integrates free health screenings, informational talks from dieticians and farmers, and cooking demonstrations by local chefs, including those from Inspiration Café, 4554 N. Broadway St.

Managing the Uptown Farmers Market at Weiss is part of the hospital’s Health for Life initiative, which emphasizes healthy living habits for people of all ages. “We want Weiss to be a place where people can go to learn to be healthy, not just to be treated for an illness,” Tuohy said. Diabetes is the most pressing concern in the community, and eating right is the first step to combating the disease.

Some of the successes already experienced in helping its diverse community achieve health for life over the past three years:

  • 18,000+ visitors purchased fresh produce and learned healthy living
  • 200+ children from local schools and park districts educated on healthy eating
  • 4 community-focused organizations connected with their neighbors
  • 2 soup kitchens benefited from donated fruits, vegetables and herbs

The outdoor Uptown Farmers Market runs every Thursday from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. June 6 through October 24 at Weiss, 4646 N. Marine Dr., Chicago. Find out more about the farmer’s market and urban farm, or engage with the effort online through the Health for Life blog.

For more information contact:
Weiss Public Relations
(773) 564-7285