Chicago-Area Farmers of Color Receive Grants to Produce More Food

by Alexina Cather, MPH

Policy name: Fresh Food from Farmers of Color Fund (FFFC)

Overview: In the Chicago, Illinois, area, the FFFC has awarded more than $670,000 in grants to 25 farms that are owned, have been led, or were founded by farmers of color to increase their food production and expand access to healthy food on the city’s South and West sides

Location: Chicago, Illinois

Population: 2,706,000

Food policy category: Food production, food access, food security, farmers of color, nutrition

Program goals: To expand food production, site infrastructure and capacity for farmers of color, and to further support access to fresh produce for area residents

How it works: The grants are given to the 25 chosen Black, Latinx, and Indigenous farmers located primarily on Chicago’s South and West sides so that they can sustainably increase their yields. The 25 who’ve been selected will supply South and West side markets as well as Women, Infant, and Children (WIC) Food & Nutrition Centers with produce. FFFC also plans to connect residents and WIC Food and Nutrition Center clients to hubs of locally-grown produce in their communities. 

Progress to date: Announced October 23, the grant recipients include: Belly of the Block, Black Oaks Center for Sustainable Renewable Living, Bronzeville Neighborhood Farm, Dusable City Ancestral Winery & Vineyards, Edna White Community Garden, Fresher Together, Global Garden Refugee Training, Greasy Gardens, Green Pastures Echo, Iyabo Farms, Mother Carr’s Farm, New Magnolia, Patchwork Farm, Rehoboth Blueberry Farm, Broadview Farm, Star Farm, Closed Loop Farm, Catatumbo Cooperative, Run A-Way Buckers Club, Smooth & Social Roots, Sowers Grove, Urban Growers Collective, West Side Bee Boyz.

The 25 farms were selected by a review committee that included representatives from the Illinois Stewardship Alliance, Advocates for Urban Agriculture, University of Illinois Extension, Grow Greater Englewood, and Experimental Station. They range in size from small neighborhood community gardens to large farms with farmers that have more than 30 years of farming experience.

Why it is important: “It is critical to our local food systems that we both continue to support independent farmers and expand food access to residents on the South and West sides of Chicago,” stated Connie Spreen, Executive Director of Experimental Station, the group administering the FFFC, “especially during this time when many families continue to face challenges as a result of the impact of COVID-19.” 

According to researchers at Northwestern University and the University of Chicago, Black and Brown communities on Chicago’s West and South sides do not have proportionate access to fresh or affordable food. As tracked by the Chicago Health Atlas, on average Black and Latinx adults in Chicago are, on average, 25 percent less likely than white residents to have “easy access to fruits and vegetables.”

This access has become more difficult during the COVID-19 pandemic. Already faced with a scarcity of supermarkets in their neighborhoods and health issues such as diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure, which are also partly attributable to a lack of access to fresh foods, Black and Latinx residents have become even more likely to contract  the coronavirus and more in need of healthy foods that could make them less vulnerable.

“We are pleased to partner with the Experimental Station on the Fresh Food from Farmers of Color Fund initiative,” said Stephanie Bess, Interim Associate Director of the Office of Family Wellness at the Illinois Department of Human Services. “This program will allow for access to nutritious, locally grown options to area residents during incredibly challenging times. We look forward to serving communities with fresh food options that will benefit everyone’s health and wellness.”

Program/Policy initiated: This is the first year the grants have been given, although Experimental Station, the nonprofit behind them that has dedicated itself to helping Chicago’s South Side residents gain better access to fresh food, was founded in 2006.

Point of contact: Michelle E.L. Merritt at [email protected] 

Similar practices: This past July, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the availability of $15 million set aside to support organizations working with farmers of color and military veterans. Congress created this fund, officially known as the Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program (and unofficially known as the “2501 Program”) in 2019. The Farm Service Agency also targets minority and women farmers and ranchers to receive various loans. Also in July, the Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA (RAFI-USA) announced the first-ever round of grants from its newly formed Farmers of Color Network Infrastructure Fund, which provides grants of up to $5,000 to farmers to increase farm viability, support local food economies, and preserve traditional farming practices A total of $131,500 was granted to 27 farmers in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia. 

Evaluation: Evaluation of this program has not yet been conducted.

Learn more:

https://foodtank.com/news/2020/09/chicago-grant-program-funds-farmers-of-color/

https://www.hpherald.com/news/local/experimental-station-and-idhs-will-distribute-650-000-to-illinois-farmers-of-color-with-goal/article_e0659014-dcce-11ea-856d-1f10c5de9fe6.html 

References:

https://foodtank.com/news/2020/09/chicago-grant-program-funds-farmers-of-color/

https://www.rafiusa.org/blog/rafi-usa-grants-130500-to-support-members-of-its-farmers-of-color-network/

https://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/grant-funding-available-to-support-farmers-of-color-and-military-veterans/

https://www.fsa.usda.gov/programs-and-services/farm-loan-programs/minority-and-women-farmers-and-ranchers/index

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