CHICAGO (CBS) — Thousands of acres in Chicago are little more than empty fields.
But CBS 2 Morning Insider Vince Gerasole learned they could sprout jobs and economic opportunity by converting them into farms. He spent a day down on the farm getting to know the people who work the soil.
“I get to eat a lot of good vegetables and grow a lot of vegetables,” said Urban Growers Collective production manager Malcolm Evans. “I can put in a lot of work and get a lot of love out of it.”
Evans grew up in the Cabrini Green public housing complex, so he didn’t know much about farming – or even where vegetables came from – until he started with Urban Growers in 2003.
He’s now worked in urban farming for 16 years.
“Putting these farms in the middle of the cities is one of the only ways we’re going to be able to feed people,” said fellow urban farmer Grace Bohlsen.
Bohlsen and Evans help tend the fields at the Urban Growers Collective’s farm at 90th and Green Bay on the South Side. It’s one of eight urban farms and gardens they operate in Chicago.
From the plants that grow there to the animals who feed there, the small working farm is surrounded by vacant lots and industry in the South Chicago neighborhood.
“We can help beautify a community. We can help feed a community,” said Urban Growers Co-Executive Director Laurell Sims.
Urban Growers is a non-profit that began 15 years ago, educating teens on farming. Now some of them are farmers themselves.
When they started they were some of the only farmers in town, but now the field has grown.
It’s estimated that there are now some 38 urban farms in Chicago, most no more than a few acres. It’s a fraction of the hundreds of blighted and empty blocks in Chicago that farming proponents believe are fertile ground.
“We definitely see in the neighborhoods increasing violence and safety concerns,” Sims said. “To really be able to shift that dynamic, we have to have jobs; and I think urban farming is really the place we can really impact the community the most.”
Evans started out as a teen learning the land. Now Urban Growers trains adults in farming, many who’ve started their own small farms; people who have found green acres are the place to be.