food, produce, organic, garden

Star Farm Chicago makes urban agriculture accessible, inclusive and healing

By Briana Garrett
Medill Reports

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One of three of the neighborhood Star Farm gardens in Back of the Yards. (Briana Garrett/MEDILL)

Back of the Yards-based urban garden Star Farm Chicago grows produce for the surrounding multicultural community and organizers pride themselves on defying the traditional mold of food and health.

“We wanted to tap into the hidden strength of the community,” said Star Farm Chicago founder Stephanie Dunn.

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Star Farm Chicago Founder Stephanie Dunn distributes fresh produce at a Star Farm pop up. (Stephanie Dunn/Chicago)

Stephanie is an advocate for inclusive space and food justice. She knows the demographics of Back of the Yards and strives to involve often marginalized peoples.

“We have to bring black and brown knowledge to the forefront and knowledge from women,” she said.

Back of the Yards is an area with a  predominantly black and Latino resident  population, two groups that face high risks for diet-related health complications. Star Farm Chicago seeks to mitigate some of those issues by providing natural solutions, starting with access to fresh produce.

“I do not see the relevance of more high tech solutions. That’s not what clicks with people. Stewardship clicks with people,” said Dunn.

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The 40-foot bed of dirt contains nutrients for the next growing season, producing thousands of pounds of produce, says Dunn. (Briana Garrett/MEDILL)

While the garden produce is free to neighbors who stop by, Star Farm Chicago also hosts two Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs, where community members grow and harvest produce for the subscription service. Half of their CSA distribution is free, donated to single-parent households and home-bound seniors in the neighborhood. The other half is for paid subscription and is  accessible to those with SNAP cards.

Dunn asserts that the purpose of the garden is to eliminate barriers around food access.

One of the 40-foot beds of soil become home to beds of cabbage and other leafy greens. (Stephanie Dunn/Chicago)

Dunn credits much of Star Farm’s success to the dedicated community volunteers.

“It’s been great to collaborate with Star Farm and then being on front of many projects for it. And we just want to produce a lot of food for the neighborhood and for Star farm,” said Antonio Bucio, a neighborhood carpenter who volunteers.

Antonio Bucio and his colleague till the land in preparation for planting. (Stephanie Dunn/Chicago)

People like Antonio, as Dunn noted, make the garden space inclusive and healing.

As with many non-profits, making money juxtaposed with accessibility to the produce is a challenge for Star Farm. But Stephanie hopes to increase CSA paid subscriptions to increase funding. She also plans to scale the business with new goals.

“We’re going to be opening up a cooperative, and I want to also have a community kitchen tied to that,” stated Dunn.

But regardless of any evolution in the Star Farm model, at the heart of the work, Dunn says, fellowship is central.

For more information visit Star Farm Chicago.

Photo at top: One of three of the neighborhood Star Farm gardens in the Back of the Yards neighborhoods. (Stephanie Dunn/Star Farm Chicago)