South Chicago Urban Farm Planning Community Arts Studio, Kitchen Space to open next year

SOUTH CHICAGO — A collective of urban farmers has launched a plan to develop a creative space for arts, culinary and community programs on their Southeast Side farm.

Urban Growers Collective is preparing to open a studio and culinary space by fall 2023 on its 7-acre South Chicago farm at 9000 S. Green Bay Ave.

Organizers plan to hold small group discussions about the studio with community leaders and neighbors this winter and begin construction in the spring or summer, said co-founder Laurell Sims.

Several dozen volunteers celebrated the launch of their plans on Friday by working in the farm’s greenhouses, harvesting herbs and preparing the future studio site.

The studio will enable year-round programming and expand Urban Growers Collective initiatives, such as its herbalism and grower-learning programs, Sims said.

“We focus on a lot of different culinary and manufacturing aspects,” Sims said. “A big part of that is being able to create really beautiful products – whether it’s textiles with some of the cotton we grow or learning to dye with some of the indigo we grow.

“Creating this space where we can do that, and do it in community, is really exciting for us. That’s not the infrastructure we’ve had here.

This winter’s charrettes, or intensive planning sessions, will ask neighbors to “see and draw what they would like the space to be,” Sims said. These comments will influence the design of the studio, she said.

The collective also plans to work with arts groups such as the Red Clay Dance Company, Floating Museum, South Side Community Art Center and AMFM to shape studio offerings and amenities, program coordinator Mykele Callicutt said.

“We want the help of the community to show us how they’ve done their artist-in-residence programs, and we want to follow suit and create a new, unconventional space with these folks,” Callicutt said.

The space could also host performances and creative retreats in the vein of the Red Clay Dance Company’s show, meal and meditation last week at the collective’s Grant Park farm, Callicutt said.

“That’s all the energy – to give people who have been doing this job forever an unconventional space to relax outside of their usual studio or practice space,” he said. “Being on a farm changes what you do and the energy of what you do.”

Credit: Maxwell Evans/Block Club Chicago
Mykele Callicutt feeds a goat at the Urban Growers Collective’s South Chicago farm on September 16.
Credit: Maxwell Evans/Block Club Chicago
The Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railroad Bridge rises above the Urban Growers Collective Orchard in the South Chicago Collective Farm.

A mixer followed Friday’s workday, with volunteers drinking cocktails and mocktails made with farm-grown herbs, flowers and fruit and spirits from Tito’s Handmade Vodka. Tito’s helps fund the studio’s construction through its Block to Block philanthropic arm.

Urban Growers Collective “has an extremely knowledgeable team of farmers here who have taken their time to explain to us…how it helps the farm and how the farm helps provide for the community,” said Michael Calabrese, Field Sales Manager. for Tito’s. “It validated everything about why we wanted to work with” the collective.

Urban Growers Collective was founded in 2017 from the remnants of the Chicago chapter of Growing Power, a now-defunct Milwaukee-based nonprofit.

The organization’s farm in South Chicago is one of eight in the city, including farms in Jackson Park, Altgeld Gardens and the Washington Park neighborhood. The crops grown there are destined for a community-supported agriculture program, a mobile farmers market, local restaurants such as Majani on the South Shore and more.

The collective helped develop the Always Growing Auburn Gresham project, which will bring a “healthy lifestyle hub” to 79th and Halsted streets and a renewable energy and urban farm campus to 83rd and Wallace streets. The project won the $10 million Chicago Prize in 2020.

The planned south Chicago farmhouse studio space reflects a time of expansion for Urban Growers Collective, said Callicutt, a musician and poet who was hired earlier this year to “think about the kind of artistic partnerships and things like that that we can bring to the farm. ”

“It’s an ever-growing amoeba of one place,” Callicutt said. “It has a lot of avenues for the community, a lot of growth and development for the farmers themselves, and ways we can connect with the food system and fight racism within it.”

To volunteer with the collective, click here.

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