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August 30, 2015

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Proviso Partners for Health is fighting suburban food insecurity

You might be surprised (and you should probably be shocked) to know that in suburban Cook County, "more than 15 percent of people are uncertain where they will find their next meal." That means that nearly 800,000 people are what is described as "food insecure."

That's from a 2011 article in the Daily Herald, which breaks it down even further:

In Arlington Heights, 11.2 percent of residents do not necessarily know where their next meal will come from. Throughout northwestern Cook County, most communities' food insecurity rates hover in the low double-digits: 11.1 percent in Buffalo Grove, 14.5 in Des Plaines, 12.3 percent in Elk Grove, 12.6 in Hoffman Estates, 12.7 in Mount Prospect, 13.2 in Palatine and 12.3 in Schaumburg, to list a few.

If you want to get even more specific, you can turn to a study done by The Greater Chicago Food Depository and Feeding America, who together mapped this American crisis by municipalities and neighborhoods in Cook County. You can see the data represented as percentages of the population here and as numbers of individuals here.

I discovered this information after I had been invited to participate in an event called "Raise the Hoop Garden Festival" a couple of weeks ago in Maywood, just west of Chicago, in a place called Giving Garden.

That western suburb is part of a cluster of municipalites, including Forest Park, Broadview, Bellwood and Hillside, which all have higher food insecurity rates than most Chicago suburbs. And of that group, Maywood has the highest rate--between 22 and 30%, representing somewhere between five and ten thousand people.

Did you have any idea?

So when I found out that landscape architect Nathan Wright, who I have known for several years, was involved, I decided to pay a visit. It was there that I learned about a group called Proviso Partners for Health, which is a coalition promoting "health equity" within the communities in Proviso, which the township in Cook County where two high schools--Proviso East and Proviso West--are located.

The goal of Proviso Partners is to prevent disease and promote wellness, and one of the ways they are attepting to do that is to get the high school students involved in the Giving Garden, which is located on the grounds of a company called Reuse Depot, which happens to be located across the street from Proviso East.

It's an opportunity for young people to learn how to grow their own food and ornamental plants--but more than that, how to take the first steps towards becoming self-sufficient. At the Giving Garden, you can find raised gardens made of both traditional wooden frames and galvanized steel troughs, hoop houses, a cistern to collect rain water, vegetables, perennials, and a lot of enthusiasm.

I interviewed a number of folks who are making this happen, including Nathan Wright, who is also an adjunct faculty member at nearby Triton College; Lena Hatchett, Director of University and Community Partnerships at Loyola University Medical Center, garden coach Jennifer Bridgmon from Grow You Organic, Triton student Bill Greer, and high school students Alexandria Willis and Ciana Talmadge, who were offering salsa that was made from freshly grown garden vegetables and herbs.

I've learned that there's a profound misunderstanding about access to healthy, fresh, affordable food in the suburbs. That is to say, it's not always available. To a certain extent, it depends on the suburb and where it's located. As Lena Hatchett explains during our interview, people need to learn the lessons of empowerment, entrepreneurship and political savvy, which lead to jobs, which lead to the ability to live healthy lives in a sustainable way.

I'm not going to be able to name all of the groups that are involved in Proviso Partners for Health--there are 28 and counting--but here are a few:

Privso East High School, Triton College
University of lllinois Extension Cook County
Reuse Depot
Quinn Community Center
Mender Foundation
Village of Maywood
State Representative Kathleen Willis
State Representative Emanuel Chris Welch
Proviso Leyden Council for Community Action (PLCCA)
Neighborhood Association of Maywood (NOMCO)
Good Earth Greenhouse, Greenheart Building
Grow You Organic
Twig Landscape Design
OBI Deconstruction
Susanne Fairfax media
District 89 School District of Maywood, Melrose Park and Broadview
Loyola University Health System
Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine
Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing

...and there are more than that. My apologies for anybody I missed. It's a great mission that is already achieving great results.

 

 

 

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Lena Hatchett

Hoop house and raised beds awaiting fabric cover


Jennifer Bridgmon and Bill Greer


Alexandria Willis and Ciana Talmadge

 

 



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