Bronzeville Neighborhood Farm near 42nd and Calumet. Farm organizer Johnnie Owens still has a bit to go before planting is done for the season, but hopes he'll get some more volunteers to help. Credit: Jamie Nesbitt Golden/Block Club Chicago

GRAND BOULEVARD — Johnnie Owens is ready to celebrate after a tough year. The operator of Bronzeville Neighborhood Farm welcomed back neighbors, supporters and volunteers Sunday for the “Spring Awakening” event, its first gathering since the pandemic hit Chicago.

A modest but enthusiastic crowd turned out for the event, 4148 S. Calumet, where they were gifted bags of fresh spinach and treated to a healthy cooking demonstration by the Double Stitch Twins. Others joined the celebration via Zoom.

Owens said Block Club he hoped the positive turnout was a sign of things to come after operations ground to a halt last year.

The Double Stitch sisters prepare their popular “Untuna Salad” during a cooking demo at Bronzeville Neighborhood Farm’s “Spring Awakening” event Sunday. Credit: Jamie Nesbitt Golden/Block Club Chicago

The community urban farm launched in 2016 and finished its first full year of operations in November 2019, growing fresh produce and creating a gathering space for neighbors to share in healthy eating and learn about issues such as climate change.

But the farm nearly didn’t have a 2020 season, Owens said. The farm relies on volunteers, many of whom weren’t able to participate because of coronavirus restrictions.

“There was such a shortage of seed, people were on lockdown and we were on lockdown, too. Before COVID we served about 700 people a week,” Owens said.

By mid-summer, the group was able to get several plants in the ground, including mustard greens, kale, radishes, tomatoes and squash, Owens said in a promotional video about the farm. But by that time of year, the farm already would have harvested and started selling those vegetables, putting the profit back into the space and hiring youths to help on the grounds.

That delay meant no income for the farm for months, Owens said.

YouTube video

Now, Owens said, he is focused on rebuilding. He’s hoping he can bring back his team of volunteers to help finish the planting for the season.

The farmer is also doing what he can to expand outreach, partnering with the Field Museum for help with their environmental education work, and documenting their work.

Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) — whom Owens credits with making the Bronzeville Neighborhood Farm a reality — told Block Club that the farm is a “great spiritual center” for the community. Dowell said the farm’s expansion over the last five years has been a boon for the community.

“Everybody’s been cooped up in their homes on Zoom, and this is a great way for neighbors to reconnect, smile, and just be free,” Dowell said.

The farm is hosting a Monarch Butterfly Community Science Project in conjunction with the Field Museum at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 22, where participants will learn the importance of pollinators and what they can do to attract and support Monarch butterflies through their life cycle.

For more information about the event, or volunteer opportunities with the farm, contact Johnnie Owens via email, or at (708) 522-8275.

Stevie and Renee Robinson treat guests to a live performance at “Spring Awakening.” Credit: Jamie Nesbitt Golden/Block Club Chicago

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