Jim Slama didn't coin the phrase "Think globally, act locally," but he's certainly lived it. In 1988, he launched Conscious Choice, a monthly magazine covering envi
Harry Rhodes doesn't just believe in the old adage "Teach a man to fish..."—he lives it.Through his four-year-old program, Growing Home, he teaches the recently homeless or incarcerated how to grow food through on-the-job training. The fledgling farmers work ten acres in LaSalle County and an acre in the Back of the Yards, and also study marketing and business finance, with the eventual goal of making them more employable.For Gloria Carter, it worked. After completing the program, she realized a goal to work in the restaurant biz by landing a job at Bistro Campagne, where she now works under chef Michael Altenberg."I'm living a lifelong dream," Carter says. "When we started, I wondered how the program was going to help. Then we started planting seedlings and everything changed. I saw something I worked on sprout into beautiful vegetables." Those vegetables are at the Hyde Park and Green City farmers' markets. But you may have already eaten them at restaurants like Blackbird, Lula Cafe and North Pond, which support Growing Home to ensure that Rhodes can keeping teaching those like Carter how to grow. Fore more info, visit www.growinghomeinc.org.Jody Robbins
Jim Slama: Organic Activist
Jim Slama didn't coin the phrase "Think globally, act locally," but he's certainly lived it. In 1988, he launched Conscious Choice, a monthly magazine covering environmental issues and natural foods, nutrition and alternative health care. He also developed the Local Organic Initiative, an advocacy project supporting local organic farmers and making their produce available to Chicago restaurants and low-income neighborhoods; and, most recently, FamilyFarmed.org, a website, labeling project and annual expo that connects regional farmers with consumers and commercial buyers. The last two projects fall under the aegis of Sustain, the River North–based nonprofit Slama founded ten years ago to promote healthy environmental policies.
Slama encourages family-owned farms and food manufacturers to place a FamilyFarmed.org label on their product, directing consumers to the website, which profiles producers and tells where to find their produce. In return, farmers are asked to track and report local sales increases resulting from their participation in the program.
"We still need to be vigilant, but the environment has changed dramatically," says Slama of the government's growing support of organic farms. "It's a far cry from where organic was."—Margaret Littman
Terra Brockman: The Land Connection
Thinking of building a dream house in the country? Don't do it in central Illinois. Terra Brockman is making it her business to save farmland from "these de facto suburbs springing up without zoning or planning," as she puts it. She's founded Land Connection, an organization with a simple mission: Buy farmland with money raised via grants, fund-raisers and donations; educate those interested in the intricacies of being a farmer; and give new farmers the purchased land so they can turn it into organic soil and grow products to earn a living.
Most of the project is being done around the Mackinaw River Valley, where Brockman's siblings have split up their parents' land and turned it into organic farms. (Her brother Henry is one of the most popular organic food growers in the Midwest.) She's adapted a Farm BeginningsTM class, and created a program where wanna-be farmers attend ten weeks of classes and then are paired up with mentor farmers for hands-on learning. Graduates have gone on to raise vegetables, sheep and steers on allocated Land Connection farms.
As one of the loudest voices advocating sustainable organic farming, Brockman's building a different kind of dream house, one farm at a time. For more information, visit www.thelandconnection.org.—Heather Shouse
Brenda Palms-Barber: Sweet Beginnings
Think you're working hard? Honey bees are working harder.
As we speak, there are 50 to 70 honey-producing hives in the North Lawndale neighborhood revving up for a summer of honey-making. Little do they know, they're helping create a revenue source that provides job training and payroll for the community at the same time.
As director of the North Lawndale Employment Network, Brenda Palms-Barber looks for ways to get people working in a community where, according to her stats, 57 percent of the population has a criminal background. Through her program, Sweet Beginnings, she employs a handful of formerly incarcerated locals to construct hives, keep bees, and gather, package and sell the end product as Beeline Honey.
Last year's harvest netted more than two tons of a unique honey that's very light in color and takes its flavor from the white clover abundant in the area (bees travel miles while collecting raw ingredients and pollinating at the same time). The harvest from the apiary (located off 35th and Fillmore Sts) is sealed in jars and sold at many local farmers' markets and to restaurants, plus on-site in North Lawndale. But it's the quality of life it produces for those who tend the hives that's perhaps the sweetest part of the deal. For more info, visit www.nlen.org.—Jody Robbins
Kristine Greiber and Ken Dunn: City Farm / Resource Center
On a parcel of land in one of the nation's most notorious housing projects, vegetables are winning the fight for home turf.
Thanks to Ken Dunn and Kristine Greiber, part of the desolate landscape of Cabrini Green, at Clybourn Avenue and Division Street, has been transformed into City Farm, an organic garden where four staffers and a volunteer force from the neighborhood grow and harvest vegetables. The project is one of seven programs run by the Resource Center, an environmentally minded nonprofit founded by Dunn that, in his words, "develops elements for a sustainable city." In plain speak: He and Greiber oversee a huge recycling program, a composting facility, City Farm and the 70th Street Farm, a similar gardening project at 1325 East 70th Street.
Dunn and Greiber's efforts are admirable, but what does stuff growing out of an abandoned project lot taste like? Pretty damn good, actually. Good enough to count Lula Cafe, Frontera Grill and Le Francais as loyal customers. The greens, beets, garlic and more are also big hits with shoppers at the Hyde Park Farmers' Market and at the Saturday market day (9am-2pm) held for the public at City Farm.For more info, visit www.resourcecenterchicago.org.—Jody Robbins
David Cleverdon: Kinnikinnick farm
David Cleverdon just bought a second truck. That's not exactly headline news, but for a small farm, it's big. Another means of carting his organic produce to Chicago is a step toward proving that small, sustainable farms can survive. "The only way this kind of agriculture can work," he says, "is if it can earn farmers a living."
In '92 he and his wife, Susan, started Kinnikinnick Farm (named for the creek that runs through the property) on 40 acres near Rockford. Since then, Kinnikinnick has become a preferred provider of produce to thriving restaurants like Avec and Green Zebra, as well as an important voice for the organic farming community.
Cleverdon has survived by finding a niche (providing Italian greens like arugula and cavolo nero to local chefs), but turning an organic farm into a moneymaker isn't easy. As a Midwest farmer, his growing season is shorter; as an organic farm he needs more manual laborers, not just to weed, but to plant larger crops to compensate for those lost to hungry pests.
His second truck will help him cover both Green City Market and the Evanston Market this summer, boosting the sustainable-farm business one truck at a time.—Margaret Littman