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The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Award for Outstanding Non-Profit Neighborhood Real Estate Project

Lawndale Christian Health Center for Farm on Ogden

A 20,000-square-foot former car dealership reimagined by two seemingly disparate organizations, the Farm on Ogden is an aquaponic farm that grows and markets fresh produce and, of course, fish in the Lawndale community year-round. The spectacular result of partnership between the Chicago Botanic Garden and the Lawndale Christian Health Center, the Farm grew out of the work that each entity has long been engaged in.

Chicago Botanic Garden, which operates growing/teaching farms throughout the city, had operated an outdoor garden adjacent to the current site of the Farm since 2005, where it employed and taught community residents, including youth and the formerly incarcerated, the fundamentals of growing and marketing produce. And Lawndale Christian Health Center, under the decades-long leadership of Dr. Wayne Detmer, had long been an innovator in the health arena – starting a community café and a gym to address the community’s needs for healthy foods and healthy habits. 

With creative architectural and engineering assistance – and the labor of both professional participants in the Windy City Harvest Program (the training program run by the Botanic Garden for veterans and the formerly incarcerated) – by 2018 the greenhouse and indoor market/kitchen and meeting space were ready to open. 

Inside the greenhouse, a 50,000-gallon aquaponic system hums away producing fertilizer for the lettuces that are grown and mature within a few days and fattening the fish which after a few months are sold to local eateries and replaced with new ones. Within the adjacent market and kitchen on any day you will find cooking classes and tours for neighborhood folks, volunteers and those who wish to emulate the bold experiment. 

During the summer these activities will be be joined by youth working in the outdoor gardens, an expanded staff to serve all those who as patients of the Lawndale Christian Health Center get a prescription for a weekly box of fresh produce – for free – and a busy market as the desire and demand for fresh produce grows. 

In Lawndale, where more than 14 percent of people suffer from diabetes, 21 percent of people suffer from unemployment and where the official poverty rate is greater than 44 percent, the Farm on Ogden is working to heal the body and soul of the community – and doing it well.