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The Run Down

With each of our city guides, we try our best to help facilitate more meaningful connections with friends and the broader community. We think one of the best ways to make those connections is to round up some of your pals and spend some time volunteering in the communities that need a helping hand. So for this guide, we’re taking you to Garfield Park where we’ll spend an afternoon getting our hands in the dirt on a 2.6 acre urban farm. Here are the details.

1. When and How To Volunteer
2. The Garden @ 400 N. Albany
3. The Garden @ 419 N. Kedzie

1. When and How To Volunteer

This urban farm located in Garfield Park is operated by the wonderful folks at Heartland Alliance, one of world’s leading anti-poverty organizations who work on a wide variety of issues touching on health, housing, jobs and justice.

One of the programs they run in Chicago is called FarmWorks, which is 2.6 acres of urban farm land that provide fresh produce for those in need. They employ a small staff and have a job program supporting capable people that face obstacles for full-time employment. FarmWorks job program gives those a path to full-time, permanent jobs.

Even with staff on-hand, there is no shortage of work to do. That’s why every month, FarmWorks hosts volunteers who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty. It’s usually for a few hours on one Sunday each month. Depending on the time of year, you could be planting crops, harvesting them, or pulling weeds and preparing the plant beds. Whatever you’re doing, there’s something about putting your hands in the dirt that bring you back to simpler times. Here are the details to plan out your volunteer experience.

– The volunteer schedule can be found on Heartland Alliance’s events page on Facebook.
– Usually held from 9am – 12pm (one Sunday a month)
– No need to bring your own gear. They have shovels, work gloves, and all the tools you’ll need.
– There are two work sites, but they are just a block from each other.

1. The Farm @ 400 N. Albany

FarmWorks is split into two areas. This is the location of the main farming area and it’s the largest. This is where you’ll check in for the volunteer event. On the day we went, FarmWorks was working with the My Block, My Hood, My City organization to do a big time event. My Block brought in hundreds of volunteers to help prep the land for planting. 

At the center of the crowd is Jahmal Cole, founder of My Block, My Hood, My City, giving a speech about how much it means to the neighborhood for people to come out and volunteer their time. If you’re looking for one person in Chicago to connect with about making real change, Jahmal is the man you need to get in touch with.

Here are a few pictures of the work site. The farm backs up to an elevated concrete wall where the Metra railroad tracks are located. The train rumbling by as you dig into the soil is definitely a cool site to see.

The Chicago skyline makes its presence known in the distance. When you look around at your current surroundings, it seems like two different worlds right next to each other. 

2. The Other Farm @ 419 N. Kedzie

Depending on what needs to be done on the day you volunteer, you might be at the main farm location, or you might be assigned to a smaller garden just a block away. Below is the entrance gate to this farm, which is probably less than a 0.5 acre, give or take. 

The day we arrived, all the plant beds were overgrown with weeds and so we did the hard work of cleaning them up, tearing out the weeds by hand, and moving hundreds of pounds of soil to be placed on top of the beds. Luckily we were rolling close to a hundred people deep at this location so we were able to make some major progress.

Here’s a before picture of the garden before we started work. It looks just like a vacant lot for the most part.

Here’s what we accomplished afterwards. Not too shabby for 3 hours of work. By the time you volunteer, this place will probably look totally different, but it’s surely worth putting in the time.