LITTLE VILLAGE — A community farm is gearing up to open next year on the Southwest Side, the culmination of more than two decades of activism to rescue the land from toxic contamination, revive it into a park and transform a portion of it to grow food.
About 1.3 acres of La Villita Park at 2800 S. Sacramento Ave. will be converted into a community farm cooperative. Members of Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, the La Villita Park Advisory Council and Chicago Park District officials announced the long-anticipated plans during an event Tuesday.
“This is a pretty historic moment for both our organization and our community,” said Kim Wasserman, executive director of the Little Village environmental group. “We fought for over 20 years to get this park in the neighborhood.”
The community wanted the park to have services and programs that answered the needs of the area — and a community farm will help provide those, Wasserman said.
The Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, neighbors and Park District officials are set to break ground on the farm this fall and open in spring 2022. The farm will have a worker-owned cooperative portion, a community fruit orchard and bilingual Spanish-English urban agriculture training, said food justice organizer Viviana Moreno.
Organizers plan to create a community collective to name and map elements of the farm, Moreno said.
“The beauty about this farm, the expertise already exists in the community,” Moreno said. “ So many people come from [ranches] … . There doesn’t need to be a huge effort; people already know how to do it organically.”
Before the area was La Villita Park, it was the site for the Celotex company, which manufactured asphalt roofing. For years, the Little Village environmental group and community members fought for the remediation of the property, which was was part of a federal Superfund environmental cleanup completed in 2009.
La Villita Park opened in 2014 and has artificial turf fields, basketball courts, a skate park, a playground and a promenade. The long-planned farm will sit on the northern and southern portions of the fields, organizers said.
Cathy Breitenbach, Park District director of Cultural and Natural Resources, said the Park District is excited to partner with Little Village Environmental Justice Organization.
Lorena Lopez, one of the organizers who fought to see the site cleaned, was excited to see the final stages of the park come to life after a long community effort. In addition to the park, the group lobbied to get 171 nearby homes cleaned up and remediated.
“It was a battle, but by connecting with community we won,” Lopez said.
Little Village and other South and West side communities have struggled with food insecurity, especially during the pandemic. The Little Village Environmental Justice Organization hopes the farm can provide an additional source of fresh food to community members and assist mutual aid initiatives aimed at combating food insecurity.
Yasmin Ruiz, the group’s Farm, Food, Families coordinator, said volunteering helped show her the great need for wellness resources.
“Our community struggles to have … fresh, healthy food on their table. The farm is a way to give them access to a healthy and accessible lifestyle,” Ruiz said. “I see how the farm … will support the [Farm, Food, Families] Program to help members from the community obtain fresh, organic food that is locally grown and culturally appropriate.”
Back when Lopez and other organizers began their work, she could “only imagine the farm.” Now, it’s happening, she said.
“It’s a great way to connect with the Latino community. A lot of us come from farms back in our land. It’s really great to see we are connecting our open spaces to our culture,” Lopez said. “This is a dream come true.”
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