You wouldn't expect to find fresh basil or okra at a food pantry, but you just may spot them at the EZRA Food & Hygiene Pantry thanks to its community garden a few blocks away.
Located in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago, the vegetable and herb garden known as "GrowUptown," is part of a partnership between JUF's Dina and Eli Field EZRA Multi-Service Center and the Peterson Garden Project, a non-profit which runs six garden sites throughout the city.
Jai Ramos, Health and Pantry Coordinator for EZRA, helped launch EZRA's garden program last year. "I really like to garden, and I think it's interesting to focus on urban farming and gardening in a big city like Chicago," he said.
The GrowUptown garden is a component of a larger health and wellness effort that EZRA offers to its clients that includes nutrition programs, diabetes education, and yoga classes. EZRA organizes a weekly outing to the garden during the warm weather months. "It's a nice way to get out and spend some time watering, planting, and picking the produce together," Ramos said.
The garden is open to EZRA clients and volunteers as well as to neighbors in the Uptown community to tend to the 200 garden plots. Gardeners, who pay a small fee for their plot, help choose what crops to grow-a diverse list that includes eggplant, chile peppers, bush green beans , okra, tomatoes, strawberries, basil, and peppermint. Gardeners may take home what they harvest.
Then, the extra produce is donated to the EZRA pantry, a change of pace from typical food donations, most of which come from the Greater Chicago Food Depository. Canned food, meat, and cereal deliveries are plentiful, but fresh produce is limited. "It's wonderful to be able to offer organic produce-vegetables and herbs-that we don't normally get from our deliveries," Ramos said.
GrowUptown's planting season kicks off on Earth Day in April and run through October.
To learn more about EZRA's garden program, contact Jai Ramos at (773) 467-3861 orJaiRamos@juf.orgor visit juf.org/ezra . Check out the Peterson Garden Project at petersongarden.org.
The Dina and Eli Field EZRA Multi-Service Center is a partner with JUF in serving our community.