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Food Independence Day

Thousands of Americans, including eight governors, have signed on to Food Independence Day, pledging to feature local, sustainable foods in their July 4th holiday meals.

The governor of Maine and his family will be eating lobster, potato salad, and blueberry pie, according to an AP story reposted at  In South Dakota the menu includes pheasant jerky; in Maryland, crab cakes.

Food Independence Day is the idea of Roger Doiron of Kitchen Gardeners International, a nonprofit that promotes food self-reliance through kitchen gardens and sustainable food systems.  Earlier this year Doiron initiated the successful campaign for a vegetable garden on the White House lawn.  

Organic oasis in a food desert

Englewood residents and food justice activists will celebrate “the death of a food desert” when a new food market featuring local and organic produce opens for a community dinner and fundraiser Friday.

Graffiti and Grub, a project of urban farm pioneer LaDonna Redmond and “hip-hop educator” Wil Seegars, will open on June 19 for a healthy soul food dinner and a program of performances to celebrate Juneteenth. They’re raising funds to complete renovations of the store, with a full-scale opening planned for later this summer.

The store has been ten years in the making for Redmond. In 1999, after her son was diagnosed with severe food allergies and she couldn’t find organic produce in her own neighborhood, she and her husband Tracey began their own food garden.

A former organizer with the North Austin Coalition and co-director of Sisterhouse, Redmond took up the issue of access to healthy food more broadly, developing urban farm sites and a farmers market on the West Side, and operating Organico, an organic market at the Garfield Park Conservatory, for three seasons.

Today six farm sites in Austin and West Garfield are part of her legacy, along with a program in which 175 teens will be learning about green technology and installing urban farm sites and individual home gardens this summer. But her longterm goal was always to open a year-round grocery store.

Graffiti and Grub is “a community-based solution to the issue of food deserts,” she said. “Just bringing in an outside major chain grocery store isn’t enough” to address broader issues of health disparities for African Americans. “In addition to choices, people need a support system,” and Redmond describes the store as a “wellness center” providing information and education on food and health issues.

“There really does need to be local ownership in order to get businesses that are responsive to the community,” she said.

Seegars’ role is to foster creativity and entreprenuership among young people.

Local chefs are preparing meals — with and without meat, and vegan as well — and d.j.s and entertainers will be performing late into the night at Graffiti and Grub’s Juneteenth Celebration, Friday, June 19, starting at 5 p.m. at 5923 S. Wentworth.

Food stamp, pantry use increases

The number of Chicago area households relying on food stamps increased 15 percent in the past year, and the number of households relying on food pantries is up by 34.5 percent, according to the Chicago Community Trust‘s monthly Metro Chicago Vital Signs report.  February saw 19,000 jobs cut in large-scale layoffs in the area.

One million meals

The Chicago Community Trust announced the first round of grants in its new Unity Challenge (see December’s Newstip).  Grants throughout the six county region will provide an addition 1 million meals at food pantries and soup kitchens, an additional 2,100 beds at 25 area shelters, and stepped-up homelessness prevention. 

Rising need for food and shelter

The Chicago Community Trust has launched a $3 million initiative to help food pantries and homeless shelters respond to sharply rising need.

With its new Unity Challenge, the community foundation is providing a 2-to-1 match for donations up to $1 million to the grant fund, which will help nonprofits build capacity to meet basic human needs.

The Trust has also initiated a new monthly report, Metro Chicago Vital Signs, which tracks rising unemployment, hunger, homelessness and foreclosures in the metropolitan area.

According to the December report, from September 2007 to September 2008, the metropolitan area’s unemployment rate rose from 4.9 percent to 6.6 percent, and foreclosure filings doubled, reaching over 14,000 in the third quarter of this year. The number of individuals using food pantries has risen by a third, and calls for homelessness prevention are rising, reaching nearly 6,200 in October.

The food pantry at St. Columbanus Church, 331 E. 71st, where the Obama family volunteered on Thanksgiving, has seen 33 to 50 percent more people coming in for food, said director LaVerne Morris. “It’s just the economy,” she said. “People are losing their jobs. And if they do find another job, they’re not making the kind of money they were making.

“They’ve gone from making a decent salary to making minimum wage, and the rent hasn’t gone down, gas, lights, taxes, nothing else goes down. A lot of people are working every day and still can’t make ends meet — especially if they have children to feed.”

For the church’s food pantry, costs are going up too. The disposal company is charging for increased garbage pickup, the electric bill went up when an additional refrigerator was added, and just the increased expenditure for grocery bags adds up, Morris said.

Hundreds of nonprofits that are funded by the Trust “report a surge of need for food, housing, and employment — and a desperate need for resources to respond,” said Terry Mazany, president and CEO of the Trust. “Building on our 93-year legacy of philanthropy, we are taking a vigorous role in supporting the region’s most vulnerable citizens today, just as we did during the Great Depression.”

Donations to the Unity Challenge can be made by check or online. The first round of grants from the fund will be announced in February.

At St. Columbanus, the attention brought by the Obama family has also attracted badly-needed volunteers, Morris said. “Most of our volunteers are senior citizens, and they need help.” Indeed, the family’s Thanksgiving visit meant “four extra people helping, and we needed it.” She adds that the Greater Chicago Food Depository and neighborhood food pantries all need additional volunteers.


The Chicago Tribune has an in-depth look at chickens in Chicago (Newstips 11-7-08).

Chitown Daily News updates the story of a Lakeview SRO where fire inspectors were barred last month (Newstips 11-11-08).

Chickens in Chicago

When the City Council considered an ordinance banning chickens from the city late last year, the folks at the Angelic Organics Learning Center in Woodlawn e-mailed fellow urban agriculture supporters. The ordinance was tabled, but the center heard back from several Chicago chicken owners and many others who were interested in learning more.

It’s illegal to slaughter chickens (or any animal) at your home in Chicago, but it’s legal to raise them for pets — or for eggs, said Martha Boyd of Angelic Organic’s urban initiative.

People are interested not just to save on the rising price of eggs, she said. It’s also knowing the eggs you eat didn’t come from chickens fed antibiotics in closely confined factory farms.

Depending on breed, most hens lay an egg a day or so during the couple of years when they are laying, Boyd said. “And chickens make great pets,” she said — “and their waste makes great fertilizer for your garden.”

This Saturday, Angelic Organics will offer its first workshop on basic backyard chicken care for Chicago residents (Wellington Avenue Church, 615 W. Wellington, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.). Chicken farmers from Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm in Ottawa, Illinois, and Chicago chicken owners will discuss chicken raising basics, as well as relevant city regulations. “The idea is to teach good practices so you avoid problems with your neighbors or with the city,” Boyd said.

In-town chicken keepers have been invited to bring photos, coop designs, stories, and perhaps a favorite bird.

Registration for the workshop is full, and a waiting list is growing for the next workshop, which Boyd expects will be held next spring. She says that in Portland and Madison, city chicken boosters hold tours of coops (in Portland it’s actually called “Tour de Coop”). “I can see that happening here in no time at all,” she said.

The urban outreach project of a ten-year-old community-supported organic farm near Rockford, Angelic Organics Learning Center works with community partners on urban gardens in areas where fresh food is hard to find.

Good Greens Fest at DuSable

Saturday’s Good Greens Festival at DuSable Museum, 740 E. 56th Place, is “aimed at launching a new movement to engage African Americans in the issues of food access, health, and green economy jobs.”

The event features a farmers market starting at 8 a.m. and health screenings, exhibits and healthy food offerings starting at 10 a.m.  A program at 1 p.m. features a panel discussion and small group discussions.

The festival is chaired by Rep. Bobby Rush — who recently included a provision in the farm bill to address urban “food deserts”  — and cosponsored by DuSable Museum, E-WALES, IIT, Real Men Cook and Real Men Cook Charities, Blacks In Green, Chicago Department of Environment, the state’s departments of human services and public health, and the USDA.

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