aka the History of the Global Garden Refugee Training Farm
By providing land, tools, seed, and training this project builds on the traditional strengths of refugees from rural backgrounds to create food security and economic opportunity in their new home. Started in 2012, the following historical timeline highlights accomplishments of each year.
42 refugee families from Burma and Bhutan, many with three generations working together, turned a vacant lot into a productive garden where they are growing fresh, organic vegetables for home consumption and sale. Participating farmers harvest fresh ingredients for traditional recipes, learning about urban commercial vegetable production in a cold climate, and earning supplemental income through sale of produce to local businesses.
One half-acre of planting beds produced nearly 5,000 pounds of vegetables for home consumption and another 1,500 pounds of farm produce was sold, generating over $3,000 in earnings for the farmers.
Jewell Events Catering, one of Chicago’s premier caterers, graciously agreed to purchase our entire harvest for 2012. Once a week, the farmers started picking at 7 AM to have basil, eggplant, peppers, and other vegetables fresh and ready for pick-up by 9 AM. Proceeds from sales were distributed to farmers in proportion to the hours of labor they each contributed. The hourly stipend from July, our first month of sales was just $1.55, but increased to $6/hour in August, and rose again to $6.94/hour in September. Our goal is to raise each farmer’s return on labor to at least ten dollars per hour by 2014.
In September, the farmers built a 20’ by 80’ hoop house so that crop production can continue year round.
Facebook page added November 2012 to share pictures and antidotes.
An additional half acre of planting beds were constructed to accommodate a total of 75 refugee families.
The farmers operated an on-site, twice-weekly farm market. Starting with almost no advertising, market sales have risen from $12 to $37 to $102 for each of the first three Saturdays for produce sold. Most customers are neighbors who arrive on foot or bicycle. Tre Kronor Restaurant also purchased bulk produce from the Farm.
Five CSA customers each paid $350 to receive a weekly share of produce for 16 weeks. This was s a learning experience for participants . In future years it will also be a source of start-up funds for each growing season at Global Garden Farm.
Two interns launched a pilot program to match community volunteers with farmers for ESL coaching, with a focus on vocabulary and conversation related to retail sale of produce. Twenty-five volunteers received orientation, training, and teaching materials. Volunteer-farmer pairs met weekly between October and February for ESL practice. The goal is to improve each farmer's English proficiency so that they can interact with and serve market customers with confidence.
Two beehives were purchased with funds raised via KickStarter. The farmers received basic training in standard beekeeping and observed the activities of the bees and volunteer beekeepers closely. In September, 30 farmers participated in honey extraction and received share of the harvest.
We built a tool shed so that supplies and tools can be stored safely on site. Produce could now be harvested the evening before market and stored securely overnight for removal of field heat prior to sale.
An advisory council for Global Gardens Refugee Training Farm was convened in June which includes representatives of the Bhutanese and Burmese farmers, the North River Commission, and the Peterson Garden Project. The advisory council is tasked with reviewing the Farm's long term mission and goals, aligning these with the aspirations and needs of the participating refugees, and securing the long term future of the farm.
Global Garden Farm has become popular within the refugee community and we now have more applicants than farm plots. We appealed to NeighborSpace for assistance with locating a second farm site in Chicago.
The Global Garden Farm CSA expanded to ten customers with a larger portion of the produce being purchased directly from the farmers. Our twice-weekly market days continue and we added a second Market Stand at the new Horner Park Saturday Farmer's Market.
Tre Kroner restaurant continues to purchase bulk produce.
Community volunteers have been recruited and trained to assist with organizing and leading day-to-day work at the farm.
Our website went live, July 2014!