In partnership with the Lake County Forest Preserves and the Preservation Foundation of the Lake County Forest Preserves, the Green Youth Farm in Lake County was started in 2003 on just over one acre of land in the Greenbelt Forest Preserve in Waukegan. The program was founded as a pilot to examine the feasibility of expanding the Chicago Botanic Garden’s school and neighborhood gardening education to serve teenagers in an extracurricular setting. Currently, the farm serves up to 25 teens every season and hosts weekly farm stands during the peak of the growing season. As the largest and most established site, the Lake County farm also provides supplemental food to community markets at the other Youth Farm sites. This site hosts many all-program workdays, in which participants from the city can experience working in a more traditional farm-like setting away from the stressors of urban life.
Construction on the North Lawndale Youth Farm began in 2005, building on the success of the Lake County site. The program’s most urban site, this Youth Farm is nestled on a quarter-acre lot between the El tracks and Ogden Avenue, the beginning of Route 66. Like the Lake County site, this location also depends highly on the generosity of its partner, NeighborSpace, an urban land trust that owns the land and supplies the water. In 2012, the North Lawndale Youth Farm expanded to an additional site down the street at Lawndale Christian Health Center, allowing more growing space to meet the needs of its 20 youth participants and the growing demand for farm-fresh produce from the weekly farm stand outside of the Green Tomato Café.
In 2009, funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act allowed the Garden to construct its largest urban Youth Farm site. Located on the northeast corner of Chicago Park District property in Washington Park, this 3/4-acre site hosts up to 25 youth from neighborhood high schools during the growing season. The site is unique in that it has a large hoophouse for extending the short growing season and a substantial orchard. It is also adjacent to a large high school, which allows access to office and cooler space for the produce.
After receiving stipend support for Youth Farm participants for many years from After School Matters, the Chicago Botanic Garden expanded this partnership to the Urban Garden Lab at Gallery 37 in Chicago’s Loop. The street-level Urban Garden Lab hosts year-round programming including aquaponics production and seasonal cooking, while additional rooftop garden space (Farm 37) features intensive small-scale growing in traditional containers as well as vertical garden options. Produce grown at Farm 37 and in the Urban Garden Lab is used in ASM’s culinary programs and can be sampled on Fridays during the summer at the pop-up rooftop café!