Farm program coordinator Mykele Callicutt identifies herbs growing in a hoop house at the Urban Growers Collective's South Chicago farm Sept. 16. Credit: Maxwell Evans/Block Club Chicago

SOUTH CHICAGO — A collective of urban farmers has kicked off a plan to develop a creative space for arts, culinary and community programs at their Southeast Side farm.

Urban Growers Collective is preparing to open a studio and culinary space by fall 2023 at its 7-acre South Chicago farm at 9000 S. Green Bay Ave.

Organizers plan to hold small group discussions about the studio with community leaders and neighbors this winter and start construction in spring or summer, co-founder Laurell Sims said.

Several dozen volunteers celebrated the launch of their plans Friday by working in the farm’s hoop houses, harvesting herbs and preparing the future studio site.

The studio will allow for year-round programs and will grow Urban Growers Collective’s initiatives, such as its herbalism and grower apprenticeship programs, Sims said.

“We focus on lots of different culinary and making aspects,” Sims said. “A big piece of that is being able to create really beautiful products — whether that’s textiles with some of the cotton we grow, or learning to do dyeing with some of the indigo that we’re growing.

“Creating this space where we can do that, and do that in community, is really exciting for us. It’s not infrastructure that we’ve had here.”

This winter’s charrettes, or intensive planning sessions, will ask neighbors to “vision and draw what they’d like the space to be,” Sims said. That feedback will influence the studio’s design, she said.

The collective also plans to work with arts groups such as the Red Clay Dance Company, the Floating Museum, the South Side Community Art Center and AMFM to shape the studio’s offerings and amenities, program coordinator Mykele Callicutt said.

“We want help from the community to show us how they’ve done their artist-in-residency programs, and we want to follow suit with that and create a new, unconventional space with these folks,” Callicutt said.

The space could also host performances and creative retreats in the vein of Red Clay Dance Company’s show, meal and meditation last week at the collective’s Grant Park farm, Callicutt said.

“That’s the whole energy — to get people who have been doing this work forever an unconventional space to unwind outside of their studio or regular practice space,” he said. “Being on a farm changes what you do and the energy of what you do.”

Mykele Callicutt feeds a goat at the Urban Growers Collective’s South Chicago farm Sept. 16. Credit: Maxwell Evans/Block Club Chicago
The Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railway Bridge looms over Urban Growers Collective’s orchard in the collective’s South Chicago farm. Credit: Maxwell Evans/Block Club Chicago

A mixer followed Friday’s work day, with volunteers drinking cocktails and mocktails made with herbs, flowers and fruits grown at the farm and spirits from Tito’s Handmade Vodka. Tito’s is helping to fund the studio’s construction through its Block to Block philanthropy arm.

Urban Growers Collective “has a hugely knowledgeable team of farmers out here that took their time explaining to us … how it was helping the farm and how the farm helps provide to the community,” said Michael Calabrese, a field sales director for Tito’s. “It validated everything about why we wanted to work with” the collective.

Urban Growers Collective was founded in 2017 from the remnants of the Chicago chapter of Growing Power, a now-defunct nonprofit based in Milwaukee.

The organization’s South Chicago farm is one of eight in the city, including farms in Jackson Park, Altgeld Gardens and the Washington Park neighborhood. The crops grown there go to a community-supported agriculture program, a mobile farmers market, local restaurants such as Majani in South Shore and more.

The collective helped develop the Always Growing Auburn Gresham project, which will bring a “healthy lifestyle hub” to 79th and Halsted streets and a renewable energy and urban farm campus to 83rd and Wallace Streets. The project won the $10 million Chicago Prize in 2020.

The South Chicago farm’s planned studio space reflects a period of expansion for Urban Growers Collective, said Callicutt, a musician and poet who was hired earlier this year to “think about what kind of artistic partnerships and things like that we can bring to the farm.”

“It’s a constantly growing amoeba of a place,” Callicutt said. “It has a lot of pathways for community, a lot of growth and development for farmers themselves and ways in which we can connect to the food system and combat racism within it.”

To volunteer with the collective, click here.

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