Urban farm opens in Evanston

Sara Peck

Eight Evanston residents braved dreary, wet weather Sunday to plant a bed of seeds at Twiggs Park for The Talking Farm project, an initiative to create an all-natural produce farm in Evanston.

The 3,000 sq. ft. “mini-farm” at Twiggs Park is now only a compost pile and freshly tilled rows of earth. But Linda Kruhmin, a co-chairwoman and executive board member for The Talking Farm, will someday blossom into the first organic farm in Evanston.

“We laughed about it, because the idea of a farm in Evanston was pretty outrageous,” Kruhmin said.

But that didn’t keep residents from becoming interested in Kruhmin’s vision of an organic community farm in a city with more brick than green.

“In September 2006, we held a forum with a panel of people from the community, and the response was overwhelmingly positive,” she said.

Twiggs Park is a temporary location because farm board members are still involved in legal negotiations to lease a 3-acre plot on the corner of Skokie Boulevard and Chicago Avenue, Kruhmin said. The Twiggs Park site, located at Simpson Street and Dodge Avenue, will inform residents about the proposed farm and teach volunteers how to grow crops, she said.

“It’s really a demonstration plot,” she said. “We’re spearheading our educational mission while we’re in negotiations to lease the actual site plot.”

Residents responded to the farm concept enthusiastically, Kruhmin said. Volunteers spent the past month clearing Twiggs Park, contacting local businesses and creating classes about sustainability that will be held at the mini-farm once seedlings begin to show. Individual donations have supported the project thus far, but Kruhmin said they are communicating with local businesses to move the farm forward.

Boocoo Cultural Center and Cafe, 1823 Church St., and Pick a Cup, 1813 Dempster St., have contributed waste to the compost pile. Kruhmin said the committee now wants to involve schools, residents and Northwestern.

“The past year was a lot of education,” she said. “It’s been an outdoor classroom. The weather hasn’t cooperated, but we do have a class with the ecology center planned for children.”

Kelly Larsen, a senior at Northeastern Illinois University, is working on The Talking Farm concept as an environmental studies internship.

“I got really interested in sustainable, urban agriculture,” Larsen said. “As a society, we’ve become so disconnected from our food. Who are the farmers who grow our food? We want to establish that relationship between farmers and consumers.”

Mass-produced food is not only impersonal, but has environmental and physical implications, Larsen said.

“When you realize that the average food product in Chicago had to travel 1,500 miles to get to you, you realize that that’s a lot of fuel being used in transport and refrigeration,” she said. “Food that is local also tends to have more nutrients.”

The growing popularity of organic and locally-grown produce is evident in both national statistics and the positive response from the Evanston community, Larsen said. More than 70 volunteers have been working on seven committees to make the farm a reality.

Rebecca Weaver-Gill, who moved to Evanston six months ago from San Francisco, said The Talking Farm has helped her contribute to the local community.

“(The farm project) helped me to meet folks and, more importantly, to get a better feel of what is going on in the community,” she said. “I’m thoroughly impressed.”

Weaver-Gill has worked on sustainable farms in San Francisco and Michigan, and said Evanston residents are eager to make the farm fully-operational.

“We’ve had such a tremendous response,” she said. “People’s eyes light up. They so look forward to having another green space in Evanston.”

Though Weaver-Gill said she and volunteers are “really excited about playing in the dirt right now,” Kruhmin said much needs to be done before the temporary site evolves into a full-sized fruit and vegetable farm.

Hiring permanent staff, selling produce at farmer’s markets and creating an on-site farm stand are all goals of the farm staff, but Kruhmin said they are definitely making progress, though the legal formalities are time-consuming.

“The issue of food is so tied up in social and environmental implications,” she said. “Come back in the fall and you’ll really see something.”

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