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Chicago Botanic Garden’s Sixth Year of Windy City Harvest Program

Gloria Ciaccio

(847) 835-6819, direct

Release Date: 
Friday, May 17, 2013
Windy City Harvest participants

Chicago Botanic Garden’s Sixth Year of Windy City Harvest Program

First Workforce Investment Act-approved certificate program in sustainable horticulture and urban agriculture; 89 percent  of graduates currently employed

GLENCOE, Ill. (May 17, 2013) – The Chicago Botanic Garden, in partnership with Richard J. Daley College, has launched the 2013 Windy City Harvest (WCH) certificate session.  Windy City Harvest is a classroom and hands-on training program in organic vegetable and plant production designed to prepare Chicago residents for jobs in the urban agriculture and green horticulture industries. 

The 17 participants in the 2013 WCH program are enrolled as students of the City Colleges of Chicago system and will earn an advanced continuing education certificate in sustainable horticulture and urban agriculture as approved by the Illinois Community College Board. The certificate is the first of its kind approved under the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), a federal program that provides tuition and training support for individuals who meet criteria regarding income, work dislocation, family situations, and former incarceration. The nine-month curriculum, created as a pilot program in the 2007–08 season, was launched as an annual certificate program in 2009. It features six months of hands-on instruction and experience in sustainable vegetable production, crop planning, pricing, sales, and marketing, as well as a three-month internship. 

Instructors are trained and certified by the Chicago Botanic Garden. The program’s 14-week paid internship starts in June and concludes in September. Students work full time at Chicago Botanic Garden farm sites in Chicago, at the Glencoe campus, or with other urban agriculture organizations such as the Resource Center’s City Farm.

Classroom sessions, conducted at Arturo Velasquez Institute (a satellite of Daley College), include environmental literacy, basic horticulture, propagation in greenhouse environments, integrated pest management, soil fertility, small farm business planning, produce harvest, food safety, and marketing techniques. These programs provide students with opportunities to participate in the local food system, learn business and leadership skills, and be trained for future employment.

The program has graduated 57 students to date; of those, the majority (89 percent) are employed seasonally, part time, or full time in the green collar sector in the Chicago area, including at the Chicago Park District, City Farm, Midwest Foods, FarmedHere, Enlace Chicago, Uncommon Ground Rooftop Farm, Institute of Puerto Rican Arts & Culture, Big Delicious Planet Farm, the Chicago Botanic Garden, and local human service agency sites.

In 2009, with a grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO), the Chicago Botanic Garden established a ¾-acre gardening program at the Vocational Rehabilitation Impact Center (VRIC), an alternative sentencing program for young males run by the Cook County Sheriff’s Office.  Subsequently, a transitional jobs program for VRIC graduates was created with funding from the City of Chicago’s Department of Family and Support Services (DFSS) to help graduates transition back to the work world.  Since 2009, 200 inmates have participated in the program.  Of the 56,000 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables grown at the 1.5-acre VRIC garden, 70 percent has been distributed to Women, Infant and Children’s (WIC) centers and to local food pantries.  In 2011–12, the Garden worked with the Sheriff’s office and the Cook County Department of Environmental Control to develop a composting operation on the premises, expand the original garden site, and finish construction on a 6,000-gallon aquaponics system. Also in 2012, the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Windy City Harvest program created a 2-acre farm on adjacent Cook County land.  The “Rodeo Farm,” functions as an instruction site for Windy City Harvest certificate students and a work site for transitional jobs employees. Over the past three years, Windy City Harvest has trained 75 VRIC graduates in environmental and financial literacy and job readiness and placed them in transitional jobs. Four-person crews work at the Garden’s urban farm sites in Chicago, at the Glencoe campus, and at other sites, such as Kraft Foods corporate headquarters in Northbrook, where the Garden’s Windy City Harvest program maintains an 8,000-square-foot fruit and vegetable garden.

Seven young men from the VRIC program have completed the nine-month WCH certificate program and six are currently working in the urban agriculture industry.  Four VRIC graduates are enrolled in the current WCH session. 

Since 2009, Windy City Harvest farms have produced 125,000 pounds of produce, which is sold to wholesale suppliers like Midwest Foods, and has contributed produce through government-subsidized outlets like Women, Infant and Children’s centers and at farmers’ markets that accept SNAP benefits and senior coupons.  A portion of the premium product is also sold to retail outlets such as Green Grocer, the Dill Pickle Co-op, and other buyers.  

“Growing food is the scaffold that supports real training, the possibility of self-sufficiency, and the way forward for more sustainable and community-centered local economy.  The Chicago Botanic Garden and Windy City Harvest are proud to be part of this effort and to be working with so many talented urban farmers,” said Angela Mason, director of Community Gardening for the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Major support for Windy City Harvest is provided by the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture as well as the following: an anonymous donor, BMO Harris Bank, City of Chicago Department of Family and Support Services, Cook County Environmental Control Department, Helen V. Froehlich Foundation, Elizabeth Morse Genius Charitable Trust, The Grainger Foundation, Mondelēz International Foundation,Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, Institute of Museum and Library Services, Midwest Foods, Polk Bros. Foundation, North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, Steans Family Foundation, Walgreens, U.S. Department of Labor, and the Woman’s Board of the Chicago Horticultural Society. Additional support is provided by the Alvin H. Baum Family Fund, The Brinson Foundation, George and Amanda Hanley Foundation, HSBC, Kemper Education and Charitable Fund, and Lake Forest Garden Club. Also contributing are ComEd, Fields BMW, Walter and Karla Goldschmidt Foundation, Home Depot, NorthShore University HealthSystem, Sterling Partners, and three individual donors.


Editors, please note: For digital images, contact Jasmine Leonas at (847) 835-6829 or at

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