Big Green Chicago makes growing its mission

If you have ever had the opportunity to live on the South Side and North Side of Chicago or even visited for a brief time the difference between the two enclaves are staggering. One notable difference is food equity. Chicago’s South Sides suffers heavily from food apartheid, which is the limited access to healthy food in a community.

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Student artwork, pictures and textbooks decorated in style (Photo/Robin Mosley)

Communities in Chicago that have a majority Black American population tend to have issues with food access because of systemic inequity and that can lead to unhealthy food choices that affects the health and wellness of people.

Since 2012, one organization — Big Green Chicago has been the “Single largest school garden network in a US city reaching one-third of all Chicago students with 200 Learning Gardens,” according to Big Green Chicago. The organization’s mission to teach students healthier food choices can help improve food apartheid through strategic education via Learning Gardens — a tool used to grow whatever food the CPS wants, but the goal is for “Students learn first what food is and what food nourishes their body,” Amina, Garden Educator said.

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Amina Bahloul, Garden Educator and newest team member to join Big Green Chicago (Photo/Robin Mosley)

“What Big Green tries to do is inspire that awe and wonder in the garden. We start with the life cycle of plants and what we do is go out and teach the kids to get their hands dirty … it’s part of what we teach them, care for your produce,” Laura Muller, the Development Manager said.

Although food apartheid is a problem in the poorer areas of Chicago, the partnership Big Green also works with spaces across Chicago like the North Side because the organization has a desire to meet the needs of every Chicago Public School that wants a Learning Garden for its students.

Muller provided the organization’s 2018–2019 Chicago Harvest Report that highlighted the impact of Big Green’s work with CPS and what they have done over the year. During the organization’s harvest seasons summer/fall and spring brought in 4,330 pounds in 110 schools. Their harvest breakdown — brought in a value of $11,426 from 31 varieties of fruit and vegetables including salad greens, root vegetables, hearty greens, tomatoes and peppers, squashes, onions and garlic, beans and peas, herbs and berries and potatoes, broccoli and celery.

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Boy with radish (Photo/Big Green Chicago)

Big Green Chicago could not achieve these results without the support of garden educators like Amina who started her journey into food through her father who studied agriculture. Originally, Amina wanted to be a doctor, but learned that the business side of medical care does not align with her mission of celebrating food. Amina received a nutrition degree and now she teaches that “The process of eating and consuming calories does not equal nourishment.”

Learning matters and students do not just learn to grow, they learn tools to help fight food inequities inside and outside of their school. “Research shows that when young adults have more connection to something and learn about the justice behind it, they are more inclined to push toward that,” Amina said. “So, [it is about] teaching students what’s going on in their food system; teaching students about all the insecticides, pesticides and additives and teaching students about redlining and food apartheid and their food culture.”

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