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Sowing Seeds of Opportunity Across Chicago
With a board that includes former Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley, Gardeneers has grown and evolved exponentially since that first partnership with Oglesby. In its fifth spring planting season, with a staff of more than 20 people, including eight AmeriCorps service members, it’s aiming to reach 2,200 students each week and has a goal to grow upwards of 6,500 pounds of produce this season.
From sun gold tomatoes to sunflowers in Hyde Park, Evanston, and a dozen neighborhoods in between, Gardeneers’ impact is palpable. But May says that its effect goes beyond the large gardens sprouting at schools around the city. It’s in the individual sense of satisfaction that its young participants experience. “They grew it and they love it. They have a new appreciation and sense of ownership because they created it, and that changes how our students view healthy food,” May says.
May and Adam are hoping that students’ new skills start to trickle into their homes and influence food decisions permanently. Among Gardeneers’ goals this growing season is to have 70% of students try a new whole food. “Research shows that exposure can influence decisions,” May says, remarking that parents of the students they work with are often amazed at their children’s newfound love of healthy foods.
Adam, a Chicago area native, says that while Gardeneers’ mission is personal, it’s not unique to Chicago. “I wish this issue was just here in Chicago, but it’s everywhere. This is an issue that’s important on a much larger scale.”
Speaking to the lack of nutritious, fresh foods in many low-income urban communities—often called “food deserts”—Adam and May know that the issue they’re addressing is complex. Yet with thousands of new young gardeners in the city equipped with knowledge about healthy eating, a new future is blooming for Chicago.