Community Market, Garden in St. Sabina welcomes residents of Auburn Greshmam with fresh, free produce

Marlon English carefully harvests kale from a garden behind a row of storage units at 79th Street and Racine Avenue. He dips the vegetable into a container of water before gently separating the leaves – checking for insects before adding it to one of the units where fresh produce lines the walls.

English, 30, is co-founder of the Stein Learning Garden at the Nurture Life and Community Hub in St. Sabina’s, 7834 S. Racine Ave. Products from the garden, like the kale he picked, are placed in Barbara’s brand new market. , where residents can “do their shopping” free of charge.

“We wanted to… provide access to healthy food and provide safe spaces for children,” said English, who noted that the area is called a “food desert” – making it harder for residents of get fresh and healthy food.

In 2019, the USDA discovered that a significant number of low-income Auburn Gresham residents lived more than a mile from the nearest supermarket.

An Aldi is half a mile from Sainte-Sabine, and although “food and liquor” stores can be found throughout the neighborhood, many lack fresh produce.

Harvested produce is on display at Barbara’s Farm Market and Nurture Life Community Center, next to St. Sabina Church in Chicago’s Auburn Gresham neighborhood.
Brian Rich / Sun-Times

Barbara’s Market, which officially opened on Wednesday, is dedicated to Barbara Stein. She and her husband, Sheldon, were the main benefactors of the Stein Learning Garden. Barbara Stein died in January before construction was completed.

The Learning Garden was Stein’s idea, said Reverend Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina. She approached Pfleger in 2016 to create a garden where young people and those in the neighborhood could directly benefit from the products grown.

“It was crazy because I don’t know anything about gardening, and obviously I don’t really eat healthy, but she sold me on it,” Pfleger said. “And when I started to see the kids at our school, our elders, walking into the garden, I realized what a golden opportunity it was. “

The original garden remains open opposite the church. The new market and community center, next to the church, opened earlier this year. Barbara’s market produce is grown on site or donated by other local farms, such as Freight to Plate.

A garden on formerly vacant land next to St. Sabina's Church in Auburn Gresham.

Barbara’s Market derives its produce from a garden that shares space with the market on once vacant land next to St. Sabina’s Church in Auburn Gresham.
Brian Rich / Sun-Times

Most of the structures in the garden – the planters, the lawn, even the organic plants – were provided by Lowes.

“Part of our mission is to connect with the communities where our customers shop, and it’s our way of giving back, especially in underserved communities,” said Fred Stokes, senior vice president of Lowes.

The Stein Learning Garden also offers on-site vocational training; four interns were hired by Lowes.

While plants like kale, Swiss chard, chives and scallions grow in wooden crates behind the four storage units, inside the units is a produce stand, a plain cooler. -foot and even a small art gallery.

Classes take place all week in the garden. Pfleger said every child at the church’s youth facility attended classes on healthy eating and how to grow things at home.

Barbara's Market at Nurture Life Farm and Community Center, which will provide families with healthy cooking demonstrations and pop-up farmers' markets.  Photographed August 25, 2021.

Nurture Life Farm and Community Center Barbara’s Market features free produce, healthy cooking demonstrations, and pop-up farmers’ markets in Chicago’s Auburn Gresham neighborhood.
Brian Rich / Sun-Times

Amontae Campbell, education program manager for the Learning Garden, said students are also learning composting and aquaponics.

But one of the main goals, he added, is to teach students about food inequality and its impact on their community – and how growing their own gardens can help.

“I see the students coming back and their parents asking me for a seed so they can grow up at home,” Campbell said. “It’s been one of the most rewarding aspects of it all, the way it resonates with the students and then they are able to encourage their parents to do some of the things that we do here. “

The Community Hub in the garden also has cooking demonstrations – roasted beet salad a few weeks ago, and on Wednesday a group of kindergarten children learned how to make watermelon smoothies.

Barbara’s Market is open Wednesdays from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Although the products are free, donations are encouraged.

Cheyanne M. Daniels is a reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a non-profit journalism program that aims to strengthen newspaper coverage in communities on the south and west sides.

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