Vanguard Weiss Memorial Hospital Grows Rooftop Urban Farm

Urban agriculture takes advantage of the built environment in multiple ways. Some farms use vacant lots. Elsewhere, we see vertical farming techniques. A third option is to put farms on rooftops, as Vanguard Weiss Memorial Hospital (4646 N. Marine Drive in Uptown) has done.

“We’re feeding healthy food to the community we serve,” said Terry Tuohy, director of volunteer services at Weiss and mastermind behind this growing project. Tuohy had hoped the efforts would make a social impact on the diverse neighborhood surrounding the hospital. “We started a conversation on healthy living two years ago by setting up the urban farm and farmer’s market in Uptown. The community is now embracing it.”

The Uptown Farmers Market and Urban Rooftop Farm at Weiss received the 2011 Governor’s Home Town Award, which recognized the hospital for going above and beyond in making its community a better place to live.

This year’s “firsts” at the award-winning farm and market include:

Credit/Debit Cards. In order to accommodate an increasing number of patrons purchasing larger quantities of items, Weiss will accept VISA and MasterCard for all vendors.

Illinois LINK Cards. Given to citizens eligible for cash assistance from the state government, Weiss will accept LINK cards as payment for produce and other items sold at the market. An estimated 10,000 households in Uptown use LINK cards, so more low-income residents can enjoy fresh, healthy food choices.

Community Gardens. Weiss will invite community members, including a number of refugee groups, to join farmers atop the hospital’s parking garage to grow their own fruits, vegetables and herbs in raised planter boxes. Weiss plans to expand its urban farm to a nearby lot at ground level.

Business/Neighborhood Outreach. Weiss will broaden its scope of market vendors by welcoming growers of more ethnic crops in demand from local restaurants and residents, and farmers of other community gardens throughout the city looking for a market to sell their goods.

For the past two years, vendors from the Chicago area and beyond have sold fresh produce at the farmers market. Local organizations such as the North Side Anti-Hunger Network and Heartland Alliance also set up tables promoting their cause. All the while, urban farmers grow crops atop an adjacent parking garage.

Weiss volunteer farmers Jed Schenkier and Will Pool take the lead, growing produce in the Urban Rooftop Farm and coaching community members in their own growing efforts. They have set up 20 planter boxes around the rim of the parking garage roof and built more than 15 raised beds, which contain seasonal fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, spinach, kale, watermelon and basil. They plant their crops using compost from food waste collected at the hospital and throughout the community; they hydrate the crops with water collected in rain barrels. The farmers also maintain an apiary of 150,000 bees, which pollinate within a 3-mile radius of Weiss.

The existence and consequences of food deserts is discussed in several Roosevelt University sustainability courses, including SUST 230 Food and the introductory course SUST 210 The Sustainable Future.  If you are a currently-enrolled Roosevelt University student interested in taking one or more Sustainability Studies courses, please get in touch with your academic advisor. If you are not currently a Roosevelt University student, we encourage you to investigate our degree options, and our course listings. For more information, please visit our Sustainability Studies website, call 1-877-277-5978 (1-877-APPLY RU) or email applyRU@roosevelt.edu.

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