Chicago Combats Food Deserts and Childhood Obesity One Seed at a Time


Photo: kckellner

It seems like an oxymoron that childhood obesity could occur in food deserts, but in much of the country that's exactly what's happened. Food deserts, often located in impoverished urban environments, are areas where residents have little access to fresh fruits and vegetables because there are no grocery stores or farmers' markets nearby. Such areas are often plagued with quickie marts where families feed themselves the processed junk that's available, fostering an obesity epidemic. Read on to see how one program is working to change Chicago's landscapes and make these infamous food deserts a thing of the past.NeighborSpace, Chicago's land trust of community gardens, and One Seed Chicago are motivating urbanites to start their own urban garden by handing out free seeds and then asking gardeners to vote on their favorite.

The goal of the program is to get those that wouldn't have been interested in gardening before to give it a try. It's about working "from seed to table" in order to break up food deserts and fight childhood obesity all in the same breath. Chicagoans that vote for their favorite seeds, get free seeds to plant in their gardens.

According to the press release, voting started on January 1 and continues until April 1, 2011. The winning seed will be unveiled at GreenNet's annual Green and Growing Fair. Chicago residents can vote at One Seed Chicago.

"For the fourth year One Seed Chicago is uniting Chicago gardeners," said Ben Helphand, NeighborSpace Executive Director. "By planting a common seed, backyards, windowsills, community gardens and balconies across the City will be linked together in a season-long celebration of urban gardening and local eating."

This comes in the wake of a new emphasis on urban gardening in Chicago. According to an article in the Chicago Tribune,

The city hosts hundreds of community gardens and about a dozen small farms whose produce is sold to the public. But Chicago is also peppered with roughly 14,000 empty lots that all parties agree could be farmed to create jobs, beautify the city and bring fresh produce to needy communities. Who gets to farm those lots and what rules will govern them remain points of contention, however.

New zoning laws set to go into effect have brought in praise from organizations like NeighborSpace, which contends that the ordinances are bringing urban gardens out of the shadows and recognizing their importance. While other organizations and nonprofits like Growing Power feel new ordinances will put them out of business.

Martha Boyd, program director for Angelic Organics Learning Center's Urban Initiative, had this to say:

We're glad the city is recognizing urban agriculture formally ... but we are concerned when policies present difficult, costly or time-consuming obstacles to innovative and holistic projects and neighborhood food security. The people and projects who face most difficulty confronting obstacles are often those who most need urban agriculture and its benefits.

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