Three generations away from the farm ...

Diane MerrionOf course, at something like the Chicago Flower & Garden Show, not everything is “on target” for Green Tech Chicago, in fact, most of the show is narrow-cast towards, well, flowers and gardens, which would involve a lot of mental convolutions to fit our topics. However, one thing which appeared in several contexts was the subject of Agricultural Education … and something that gets kids excited about city gardening is certainly in our sweet spot. This is another of those.

We ended up speaking with Diane Merrion of the Cook County Farm Bureau, who was there talking about their various outreaches, from in-class presentations, to class field trips, to training/certification programs for teachers, and coordination of grants for classroom programs.

Now, I’m guessing that you’re thinking what I was thinking … “Just how many farms of the traditional type are there still in Cook County?” … I ran across a 1987 article from the Chicago Reader which talked of “the last farmers in Cook County”:

At last count, in 1986, 428 families were making a living off the land in Cook County, hard by the steaming, traffic-clogged, suburban tollways and freeways. And according to Alden Kilian, director of the Cook County Farm Bureau (an organization that on the face of it seems oxymoronic), in 1982 there were 42,000 acres of Cook County land in farm. Amazingly, the Cook County Farm Bureau, with its 26,000 members, is the largest county farm bureau in the nation, Kilian proudly points out, larger than any of the farm bureaus in 26 states.

So, that data’s pretty old (nearly 30 years), but it’s an interesting indication that an interest in Agriculture is strong enough in the area that it’s able to support that level of an organization. I strongly suspect, however, that the acreage figures cited there have probably dropped considerably … and the “last farm” that’s covered in that story, within the borders of the City of Chicago, has since been taken over by the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences.

Here’s what Ms. Merrion had to say about their programs:

One of the most notable things in the video is her pointing out that most Chicagoans are “three generations away from the farm”, so have very little context for even a basic level of agricultural knowledge.

Of course, there are “traditional” farms and there are urban farms, and the expansion of the latter should give the Cook County Farm Bureau a new focus! In fact, on their site there’s a “Buy Local” section which lists farm stands, farmers markets, and other resources (including a free-standing site Local Farm Products) which could be a great information nexus for projects such as “The District”, which the City is promoting for extensive re-purposing of empty lots into urban farms.

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