A sustainable farm-to-table partnership with at-risk, under-served teens in Humboldt Park

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Cooking Matters, a project of IMCHC, has recently entered into a very exciting partnership with the Urban Agriculture Program, an initiative of the Puerto Rican Cultural Center (PRCC) and Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos Puerto Rican High School (PACHS) in Humboldt Park. The Urban Agriculture Initiative was developed in response to the findings from a large-scale community survey conducted by the Sinai Urban Health Institute, (http://www.suhichicago.org/files/publications/K.pdf) which found that a vast majority of Humboldt Park residents were either food insecure or did not have access to affordable, quality fresh produce, making Humboldt Park a fresh produce desert.  To address this problem in Humboldt Park, the PRCC and PACHS created this initiative, which includes several community gardens, a rooftop greenhouse, fresh produce baskets, a farmers market, and an integrated urban agricultural education program that incorporates math, science, and various other subjects into the curriculum. The Urban Agriculture Program seeks to teach at-risk, underserved, minority adolescents about sustainability based on economics.  According to José E. López (PRCC Executive Director), teens are able to develop and live the three aspects of a sustainable economic system; production, distribution, and consumption. Production takes place in the various community gardens as well as the rooftop greenhouse.  These products are then distributed through the farmer’s market and fresh market baskets (currently about 30% of what is distributed comes from the program but this number is expected to jump to 70% by the end of harvest season). More recently, the partnership with Cooking Matters allow for teens to be involved in consumption.

Cooking Matters is funded through Share Our Strengths and the Pritzker Family Foundation and the Urban Agriculture Summer Program is funded through Illinois Neighborhood Recovery Initiative

in partnership with Chicago Commons and The Chicago Community Trust. This partnership helps to put into practice what the teens have learned through the urban agriculture curriculum.

 

Classes are hosted weekly at the Diabetes Empowerment Center of Humboldt Park.  Each week Cooking Matters staff goes to the farmer’s market and garden to pick up the produce that was harvested.  Recipes are decided based upon what is available that week. The produce has included tomatoes, zucchini, squash, cucumbers, onions, garlic, cilantro, oregano, jalapeno, green and red peppers, kale, swiss chard, collard greens, broccoli, radishes, beets, and lettuce, as well as native Puerto Rican spices such as recao (a long leafy herb) and ajies dulces (Puerto Rican sweet peppers). In addition to what is available from the gardens, CM staff is able to get leftover produce such as bananas, avocados, mangoes, oranges, and apples from the local farmer’s market.

The participants are taught about the importance of a balanced, healthy diet, how to shop for healthy and nutritious items on a budget, and how to read a food label and ingredient list.

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