There's a fence surrounding Chicago Lights Urban Farm, a site near the old Cabrini-Green public housing project, but according to Natasha Holbert, the farm's program director, it's only there to delineate the farm's designated area—not to keep anyone out.
In fact, the desire to create a microcosmic community at the site was the impetus for the 2010 transition from a seasonal garden to a year-round urban farm, a feat accomplished through the addition of a greenhouse and electricity.
Before, the farm staff would often lose touch with neighborhood volunteers as they came and went with the weather. Now people turn up consistently, and there's always plenty of familiar faces. "We wanted to have a strong and ongoing connection to the folks living in the neighborhood, and the transition to an urban farm really afforded us this opportunity," Holbert said.
The farm is a collaboration between Growing Power and Chicago Lights, the nonprofit arm of the Fourth Presbyterian Church (126 E. Chestnut). In addition to providing affordable produce to the surrounding area, the site has programs promoting youth development, like cooking classes that use the farm as its grocer, art classes that incorporate ink made from the plants, and work opportunities for teens.
The staff also teaches coping skills to youngsters, many of whom have lost loved ones to violence. Holbert explained that art helps them constructively express their feelings.
Though many of the programs are focused on youth, adults can get involved. Purchase a plot, teach classes, or get your hands dirty with some planting. (Volunteer opportunities for the season are available through November 16.) And if you're looking for affordable food, the farm has its own produce stand—though you'll have to await its reopening in June.