NEAR WEST SIDE — With the sun overhead, David Edwards walks through rows of collard greens and poblano pepper plants, talking about the organically grown produce he uses to prepare food just steps away at Smooth and Social Roots Cafe.
Edwards serves smoothies and Caribbean- and Cajun-inspired dishes at the cafe, 1517 W. Warren Blvd. He is realizing a dream by crafting meals with organically sourced ingredients and offering locally grown produce with a grocery delivery service.
Edwards also has a chicken coop and classroom for a kids agricultural program.
The cafe, which opened May 15, is a welcoming space for neighbors to get “flavorful” meals and learn about farming, Edwards said.
An assortment of smoothies, wraps, bowls, salads and dinner items are all made to order. Among the offerings are popular dishes such as the Creole turkey burger with carrot fries for $15.99 and the collard green croquette wrap for $12.50.
Recently, Edwards walked a customer through the garden so she could pick her own collard greens that were used for her meal. Another customer picked a fresh egg from the chicken coop. “We are trying to engage with our customers,” Edwards said.
Planting The Seed
The seeds for Smooth and Social Roots were planted more than three years ago when Edwards visited a friend’s farm in El Paso, Texas.
For about a month, Edwards worked on a farm while learning about his friend’s community-supported agriculture box program. Impressed by the idea of growing organically and connecting directly to consumers, Edwards wanted to give it a try in Chicago.
Edwards took a class at Daley College on farming and started running farms on the South and West sides.
“I started doing a lot of community work with people who had gardens to really get abreast of the whole thing,” Edwards said.
He enrolled in the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Windy City Harvest apprenticeship program. It’s where he learned to manage a farm and became “well-versed in aquaponic growing, greenhouse management,” and so much more, he said.
“It was the best experience,” Edwards said. “The farming thing kind of got to me so I kept going.”
With grant money, Edwards started revitalizing the Madison and Francisco Community Garden last year. Amid the pandemic, he had to revise his crop plan aimed at selling to small grocery stores, restaurants and co-ops.
Community-Supported Agriculture Business
In regrouping, Edwards started his community-supported agriculture program, selling bags of produce directly to community members. As part of his program, he offers collard greens, Swiss chard, kale, blueberries, bananas, oranges, jars of organic honey, carrots and beets every two weeks.
Edwards kicked off the program Juneteenth 2020, and his subscriber list has steadily grown through word of mouth, social media posts and an article in the Triibe.
Edwards expects to restart the grocery delivery program in the coming weeks.
While his business is starting to flourish, his ultimate goal is to offer a grocery service to communities on the South and West sides to combat food deserts.
“I want to be the next Black grocer in Chicago,” Edwards said. “It’s really ridiculous on the West and South Side … there’s no access to food.”
While tending to the two gardens and the cafe, Edwards hopes he is inspiring others to grow their own food. If not, he’s happy to provide it.
Smooth and Social Roots is open 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday.
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