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Chicago: When farm to table is just a few blocks away

Jen Rosenthal. Photo by John R. Boehm.

Farmers at Legends have to work 50 hours of community service per season for each eighth of an acre they farm, including helping Legends residents with the community garden or holding workshops on cooking or growing crops.

By Ben Feldheim
Crain’s Chicago Business
Sept 22, 2017


Jen Rosenthal walks beside a row of green pea tendrils bearing small, cloverlike leaves and thin stems. She kneels down to cut the top halves. Sugar snap peas would grow from their flowers if left to mature, but Rosenthal has found leaves from this particular type pack a lot of bright flavor. Place them in water after harvesting and they don’t deteriorate quickly like their siblings. It’s one of many lessons Rosenthal has learned in the two years she’s been growing produce at Legends Farm, a training site for urban farmers through the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Windy City Harvest program.

“Some restaurants try growing these on-site, but without the rich soil they get too leggy and spindly,” Rosenthal said of the pea plants while standing in one of the lower drainage rows that run parallel between the more elevated crop rows at Legends. “We’ll let some blossom and harvest peas before they all come out to make more room for peppers and eggplants.”

Rosenthal cut the pea plants around noon on a Friday. Hours later, they showed up on plates at A10 Hyde Park, Billy Sunday and Old Irving Brewing. The greens didn’t have to travel far. Legends Farm isn’t in some rural enclave. It’s on Federal Street between 44th and 45th streets in Bronzeville within the grounds of the former Robert Taylor Homes, the onetime largest public housing project in the country.

Today, where chain-link fences once stood and concrete covered the ground, Legends Farm is alive and green. An acre of crop rows with an array of greenery sits just north of three hoop houses built of metal frames and plastic covering, where more delicate plants like tomatoes and eggplants gather size and strength before they are planted in the outdoor rows. The remaining space includes a three-quarter-acre production farm and a 40-foot wash/pack station. On the northeast corner of 44th and Dearborn streets is a community garden with 40 plots for residents of the adjacent Legends South apartment development to use.

Read the complete article here.