LET’S TALK TO HEIDI HEDEKER ABOUT...
What is urban agriculture?
It is reclaiming city land to grow food for a
community. It implies social activism by its
very nature—if I am a city-dweller and eat
foods grown right in the heart of downtown,
it’s in my best interests to use all of my wits
to secure the health of the land for myself
and the people who share it with me.
from students in Kendall’s School of
Culinary Arts’ Nutrition Club, who do
nutritional analyses of the recipes.
Talk about Chicago Lights.
Chicago Lights, a nonprofit whose mission
is education and social justice for
impoverished residents in the downtown
area of Chicago, made a quality and value
judgment about improving people’s lives. It
realized that even with the best intentions,
its work was meaningless unless it actually
partnered with the residents, as opposed
to administering to them. Chicago Lights
purchased a city site adjacent to a large
area of public housing, with plans to
establish a community center there. When
community members were asked what
they wanted, a community garden was
No. 1 on the list. In 2003, Chicago Lights
expanded its garden into a working urban
farm. Neighborhood kids are mentored
into farming by their elders and peers,
and the work they do empowers them
and grows their independence. It’s like a
corner grocery store grown directly from
soil they tend themselves.
Can the program be
In the Wicker Park neighborhood of
Chicago, the public park has been
transformed into a volunteer-operated
garden. Kids in a summertime program
design their own gardens. The heart of this
programming is that the kids who work at
the urban farm feel a sense of ownership and
belonging and that their actions have impact.
How do folks react to the
We have a real advantage conveying
this message right at the farm. When
you talk about nutrition in the beautiful
setting of a working farm, with the foods’
amazing colors, textures and flavors and
how nutrition can appeal naturally to the
senses, then it all makes sense.
How are you involved?
My role is as an educator, to help the
kids feel that their natural creativity
is welcome and at home in the world
of food. In fact, when they study and
cook world cuisines, they are sharing
a common table with ancestors from
around the globe. I also get assistance
And for those who want to
get into urban agriculture?
David Orr, professor of environmental
studies at Oberlin (Ohio) College,
said: “When we heal the earth, we heal
ourselves.” Find some kindred spirits
and set out to change something in the
world—it’s the only way that things will
ever change. C
Find more information about Chicago Lights
Urban Farm at www.chicagolights.org/cgi-bin/
HEIDI HEDEKER, MA/MS W, IS A CHEF-INS TRUC TOR A T KENDALL
COLLEGE SCHOOL OF CULINAR Y AR TS, CHICAGO, AND A MEMBER OF
THE ADVISOR Y BOARD OF CHICAGO LIGH TS URBAN FARM.