Steps away from the Hull-House Museum and the Hull-House Soup Kitchen, where Re-Thinking Soup is held every Tuesday, an urban farm dedicated to growing heirloom crops for the soup kitchen grows.
The day I visited the farm I was walking to the location with Michael Thompson, of the Chicago Honey Co-Op, and if not for following someone who knew the location I probably wouldn’t have found it. It is tucked away near the Dan Ryan Expressway on property used by the Department of Biological Sciences at UIC.
When the heirloom farm was first proposed it faced some opposition from UIC staff because the land that the farm is situated on is used for research. There were concerns about the privacy and integrity of the research greenhouses nearby. Advocates for the experimental urban farm won out and today the heirloom farm grows many crops while coexisting with the research facilities.
The Tuesday I was there only a couple of people wandered in and they were looking for Ryan, the farm’s director, who had given away some extra plants at Re-Thinking Soup. Most days the farm is tended to by Jim Scios, Horticulturist Dept of Biological Sciences, and Ryan. Ryan tells me that most days he’s there until 7PM and has plans to move closer to the neighborhood to make his commutes easier. Jim Scios has a garden at home where he grows mostly ornamental plants and appreciates the time he gets to spend in the heirloom farm.
While talking to the two men in the hoophouse built to get an early start on greens, I found myself weeding a row of lettuces while asking them questions. They were making plans to plant tomatoes in the hoophouse because they would be able to withstand the high temperatures the hoophouse will reach in the summer. The stakes used to support the tomatoes are actually tree trunks from an invasive tree species found on the farm of the Chicago Honey Co-Op and cleared away by Ryan.
Just a few days prior to visiting I had a phone conversation with a friend of mine that lives in the area trying to convince him to grow some veggetables and herbs at his place. He has wanted to but has hasn’t because he’s concerned about pollution generated by the same expressway. I asked Ryan if the location of the farm gave them any pause and he told me the soil had been tested and results showed it was safe to use for agriculture purposes. The one problem the Dan Ryan Expressway does cause for the farm is high winds.
There is even a small patch laid out on the farm to grow a few medicinal plants from the Dorothy Bradley Atkins Medicinal Plant Garden at UIC. These will grow alongside the tomatoes, beets, broccoli, onions, potatoes and assorted other vegetables grown on the farm.
The farm is very serene considering it is on a college campus, off a major street and near the Dan Ryan. After you’ve been there for a few moments the noise of the traffic all around you fades away and for a few brief moments you can forget that you’re standing in the shadow of the Sears Tower. The bus ride home from the farm had me scouting empty lots where something like the Hull-House Heirloom Urban Farm could be recreated.
I’ll add a couple more pictures to the Chicago Garden Flickr pool of my visit to the farm. If you garden in Chicago join the Flickr pool and share your pics.