Altgeld Gardens Gets an Urban Farm

Altgeld Gardens is an important site in the environmental history of Chicago. Three decades ago, it was where residents led by Hazel Johnson discovered their community had the highest cancer rates in Chicago amid the siting of scores of waste sites in the area. The residents’ efforts to clean up the “toxic doughnut” brought awareness to environmental justice in the Chicago area.

Waste remains an important issue on the South Side, but the area faces other environmental challenges. The region has been known as a food desert in recent years, with a lack of fresh produce. That is changing, in part because of efforts by the area’s residents.

[Farm site manager Derrion Crawford] is with Growing Power, a not-for-profit out of Milwaukee. They aim to help poor communities become self-sufficient by growing organic food. Since July he’s been working with about 150 people here at Altgeld – some who’ve never held jobs before. He shows them how to build raised planting beds with capping clay, so contaminants from this toxic ground can’t leach into their organic crops. The residents make their own rich soil through composting and…vermiculture.

Students in Roosevelt University’s Sustainability Studies program are well aware of Growing Power projects in Chicago, as the program has discussed its activities in several courses and hosted Growing power teens on campus. Adjunct Professor Maris Cooke (who teaches SUST 230 Food) has brought her students to work on urban farms, including the Chicago Avenue Garden now managed by Growing Power.

For information on enrolling in future semesters of SUST 230 Food (offered online next semester) or any other of our courses, visit our Sustainability Studies website, call 1-877-277-5978 (1-877-APPLY RU) or email

This entry was posted in food, news. Bookmark the permalink.