The Chicago Lights Urban Farm
. . . cultivates a thoughtful and engaged community of youth and adults through educational and economic opportunities, and access to fresh, local, and sustainably grown produce.
Chicago Avenue has been the site for a community garden in the Cabrini-Green neighborhood since 2003. Located at 444 W. Chicago, the garden became an Urban Farm in 2010.
The Urban Farm offers training in urban agriculture, leadership, and microenterprise development to youth. The Farm also provides opportunities for individuals and groups to volunteer, purchase produce, garden, and participate in community outreach activities.
To volunteer or for more information, contact Paxton Suggs, Director of the Urban Farm.
Fresh, sustainably grown produce is offered for sale during the summer months at our onsite Farmstand. Cash, credit cards, and the Urban Farm’s Market Voucher Program (MVP) credits are accepted as payment. MVP credits are available to residents of the public housing development directly adjacent to the Farm.
All produce sold is grown onsite and selection varies according to the season. Items available may include lettuce, spicy greens, kale, Swiss chard, scallions, onions, peas, beans, radishes, salad turnips, squash and zucchini, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, heirloom large tomatoes, sweet peppers, beets, spinach, okra, basil, cilantro, dill, mint, flower bouquets, and more.
Youth Workforce Development
The Youth Workforce Development program, in partnership with After school Matters, provides high school youth in the Near North neighborhood and surrounding Chicago communities with the skills to grow fresh produce for themselves and others, transferable job skills, and insight into how food and food systems affect their daily lives.
History of the Site
For more than fifty years, Fourth Church has been involved with the children and families living in Cabrini-Green. As an outgrowth of that relationship, in 2002 the church bought property in the Cabrini-Green community, on Chicago Avenue between Hudson and Cleveland (444 W. Chicago Avenue), for the purpose of building a community center. The planned community center was envisioned as a way to help the changing neighborhood become a thriving diverse community and to ensure that present residents would not be cast aside in the process of its transformation into a mixed-income neighborhood.
As a first step in this important endeavor, while funding strategies for the community center were being explored, the Chicago Avenue site was transformed into a community garden, as a way to strengthen the relationships with the families and children in the Cabrini community. The Chicago Avenue property became the site for a community garden in the Cabrini-Green neighborhood in 2003, with the first beds installed in the spring of 2004, and the garden became a program of Chicago Lights in December 2008, allowing the garden to increase collaboration with other Chicago Lights programs in the Cabrini-Green neighborhood, further ministry related to education and hunger, access outside funding sources, and increase involvement in and visibility of the Chicago Avenue Program. The Chicago Lights Chicago Avenue Outreach continued to thrive as a garden through 2009. In 2010, in collaboration with Growing Power, a nationally recognized leader in urban agriculture, the garden expanded to become an urban farm.
In April 2012, the Session and Trustees of Fourth Church passed a motion regarding the Chicago Avenue property. As noted in a November 4, 2011, email to the congregation, these Boards had passed a motion on November 3 to pursue negotiations around an offer received to purchase the Chicago Avenue property. This, in turn, was a follow-up to the action taken the previous autumn in which sale of property assets was identified as a funding option for Project Second Century (P2C).
In November 2010, the Boards had appointed a study commission to explore ways in which Fourth Church and Chicago Lights’ longstanding commitment to the Cabrini-Green community could be continued and enhanced while also taking into account the financial needs of P2C. To implement part of the 2011 motion, an outside consultant was engaged to conduct a feasibility study to assess the ability to potentially raise the funds outside the membership of Fourth Church for Chicago Lights to purchase the Chicago Avenue property.
In April 2012, the Boards received the report of the consultant. The firm identified great interest among corporations and individuals in funding programming activities and supporting urban farming; they did not, however, find much engagement around helping invest in the property. The Boards also heard that negotiations around selling the property have resulted in a desire on the part of the interested party to move to a letter of intent to buy, with an agreement that would include a leaseback provision to enable continued Chicago Lights Urban Farm programming on that site for a defined period of time.
Thus, at their April 2012 meetings, the Boards passed a motion asking that a contract for the sale of the Chicago Avenue property be negotiated and brought to Session and Trustees. They also asked that the contract include a provision for continuing to provide urban farming in Cabrini-Green in the coming years.
In January 2013, the Boards received and recommended for congregational approval a contract to sell the property on Chicago Avenue for $3.2 million to the Chicago Housing Authority, with the inclusion of a two-year leaseback at no leasing cost. The recommendation to sell the property was presented at the Fourth Church Annual Meeting of the Congregation on Sunday, February 10, 2013, and both the congregation and Chicago Presbytery approved the sale. The property was then sold to the Chicago Housing Authority, with the inclusion of the two-year leaseback (through May 31, 2015).
The lease period allowed the Chicago Lights Urban Farm programming to continue on Chicago Avenue for many years. The Chicago Housing Authority notified Chicago Lights in the later part of 2022 of the plan to develop that site, so the Urban Farm will need to relocate by December 31, 2024.