Over the weekend, I was lucky enough to visit one of our partner sites in the City Produce Program, the Cook County Jail.
It was exciting to see all the fresh produce being gathered which will then be distributed to families without access to fresh veggies in inner city Chicago. It was equally exciting to see the inmates at Cook County Jail learning about horticulture, becoming certified Master Gardners through the University of Illinois Extension program, and adding a trade to their resume to use as they rebuild their future.
But I'm interested in the new connections being built between urban and rural citizens of Illinois.
This project is about nutrition and goodwill towards our neighbors, but its also about awareness. How often do the farmers in Illinois consider those without access to a grocery store other than the local gas station convenience store? I can guess that its not often.
Likewise, how much do Chicago residents understand about farming as an occupation? About the ups and downs of the market, the vulnerability of the weather, the long hours and sneaky insects that equal risky paychecks? Not much, I'm sure. And through this program, volunteers that simply want to contribute to the fresh vegetable access are seeing first hand what it really is to be a farmer.
There is a gap right now between the reality for urban Illinoisans and the reality for rural Illinoisans. That gap causes distrust and confusion because of a mutual lack of understanding between the two. What the Chicago Produce Project seeks to do for Illinois corn farmers is create understanding.
Become a Facebook fan of the City Produce Project, Illinois Corn, and Monsanto (all partners in this effort) so that you can learn more about the good we are doing in urban Chicago. Check out Crain's coverage of the project here. Consider getting involved.
Executive Director, ICGA/ICMB