When medical providers at PCC Austin Family Health Center discuss nutrition with their patients, there is a new option for them: They may prescribe access to fresh produce that can be filled just around the corner at the PCC Austin Farm. The farm began with a partnership between PCC Community Wellness Center and the Chicago Botanic Garden's Windy City Harvest. Both organizations share the belief that food is medicine. Access to fresh fruits and vegetables can transform individual and community health. Both organizations identified the need in the Austin community to provide access to local and sustainably grown produce.
This relationship began in 2011, when PCC Community Wellness Center started purchasing produce grown by Windy City Harvest to sell at a low cost to patients and Austin community members. PCC Community Wellness Center recognized the essential connection between access to fresh produce and the overall health of their patients. PCC purchased a vacant lot where they hoped to establish an urban farm to grow local and sustainable vegetables, and to help provide land for Austin residents to grow their own food. This community health center’s response to food insecurity in Austin sparked a unique partnership between PCC and Windy City Harvest. In the fall of 2014, Windy City Harvest staff and Harvest Corps members installed an 8,000-square-foot garden. This farm was made possible by a multiyear Humana Communities Benefit grant to PCC Community Wellness Center. Once an empty lot, is now filled with eight allotment beds, a production bed, a hoophouse, washpack, and a community gathering space.
The farm’s goal is to increase access to affordable, sustainably grown produce in the Austin community through a thriving farm, weekly farm stand, health education, and an allotment garden. In addition, in 2015, PCC Austin Farm provided 20 weekly produce bags for WIC clients in Austin over an 18-week period. Staff, allotment gardeners, and Austin residents are invited to attend workshops on topics such as crop planning, seed starting, compost, and healthy soil. These workshops build on gardening skills residents have or introduce beginning gardeners to ways to grow their own food.
Eight families can participate in the allotment garden each year; they are an integral part of the farm. They are inspirational in their excitement for what they grow, their willingness to try to new vegetables, and the way they care for their own garden and their neighborhood. The PCC Farm Coordinator oversees the garden and serves as the key liaison among the farm, volunteers, the healthcare center, and the community. Windy City Harvest will train an Austin resident through its certificate program in urban sustainable horticulture to take over the role as farm coordinator. Windy City Harvest is excited to be a part of building the foundation for a successful urban agriculture site and a future leader in the field.