Solving the Detachment Dilemma, the Tasty Way

Dilemma #1: Your kids don’t know that food comes from a plant that grows. Dilemma #2: You can’t show them evidence of this, because you don’t have any green garden space around your city apartment. Consequence: They’re more likely to associate food with shiny packages than with soil, water, or mother nature. Now, I don’t think packaged food is the end of the world, but this detachment from the seasons and cycles of nature is pervading both urban and rural areas across the U.S. That’s where the Loud Grade Produce Squad (LGPS) comes in. It’s a non-profit that runs the Weiss Hospital Rooftop Garden in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood, helping kids and families (re)connect to growing food.

How is this organization going to use a community garden on the roof of a hospital parking lot to solve our detachment dilemma, you might ask?

The plot planted, tended, and harvested by Heartland Alliance’s Refugee Health Program.

LGPS provides space, equipment, planning, and labor for community members to sow the seeds of their own health and knowledge. From neighborhood families to refugees from the Heartland Alliance, urban gardeners plant and harvest the organic produce to take home or sell at the Uptown Farmers Market kitty-corner from the site. Will Pool, co-founder and visionary of the organization, says the community response was enormous when he officially opened the plot to the public just 7 months ago. For the diverse Uptown neighborhood full of often garden-savvy international families, the rooftop garden filled a void and has since blossomed – no pun intended!

Will, who dubs himself a “first generation city kid,” says he has always been interested in empowering people through agriculture, and LGPS is the manifestation of this vision. Sustainable community development is the name of the game, and food is just a catalyst for

Students work at the community garden in Homan Square in the Lawndale neighborhood. (Photo courtesy of Loud Grade Produce Squad)

that. That’s why the other half of the project is the local community production of WVO biodiesel – the vegetable-grease-based fuel alternative that’s 86% cleaner than petroleum diesel and 5-10 times cheaper. Will works tirelessly to bring both halves of LGPS to as many audiences as possible. At the Uptown Farmers Market, Will informs a customer that the minty taste in the rooftop honey comes from basil flower nectar. Throughout the city in Chicago public schools like Penn and Dvorak, LGPS teaches gardening basics and imparts the importance of eating close to the source. Not to mention, the connection with Weiss Hospital allows LGPS to promote a healthy and nutritious lifestyle to patients. They even made local ABC news last June.

Perhaps LGPS’s template could take root in other places in need of nourishment, because what better way to keep people healthy than to give them natural nosh from right across the street? LGPS is tackling this health issue from all angles: conscientious eating is not only an alternative treatment for patients, it’s a way for families to prevent potential problems. It’s also a mighty tasty way to bring people together, elevate a community, and allow people to be more aware of the food they eat and how its grown. Now, kids are learning that more goes into making a frozen pizza than unwrapping the plastic shrink-wrap.

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Loud Grade Produce Squad is making some serious noise in the neighborhood, so listen closely! You just might hear the bees buzzing, chickens clucking, and people humming some locally-grown songs in tune with their locally-fed tummies.

Cheers to rooftop food but grounded values,

Michelle

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