Garfield Produce, located in the East Garfield Park area in Chicago, is working together with Second Chances Farm to establish the Second Chances Farm Chicago in the Windy City. Garfield Produce is an indoor vertical farm and a licensed wholesale food establishment whose mission, values and passion closely match ours.
On October 1st and 2nd, Garfield Produce’s co-founders, Mark and Judy Thomas, visited Second Chances Farm in Wilmington after hearing about us during an Opportunity Zone seminar in Chicago earlier this summer. They had previously reached out to Ajit to open discussions about expanding the Second Chances Farm model to Chicago and invited him to visit Garfield Produce. On October 21st and 22nd, Ajit visited Garfield Produce and toured vacant buildings in Opportunity Zones in Chicago. After discovering a strong connection to second chances for both people and neighborhoods, Ajit and the Thomas’s pledged to continue the conversation.
Mark and Judy
Mark Thomas spent several days between November 8th and 13th at Second Chances Farm in Wilmington to further discuss the possibilities. He toured the facilities, met the returning citizens, engaged with the management team and crunched some numbers. Both Ajit and Mark shook hands on making the idea of establishing a Second Chances Farm in Chicago a reality in 2021-2022.
Mark, a graduate of an Ivy League college with an MBA and a CPA, was a top executive at the Tribune Company in Chicago for most of his career. He and his wife, Judy, a top corporate attorney, lived in the affluent western suburbs of Chicago. To get to work, they had to drive through the under-resourced areas on the west and south sides of the city, many of which still had the ruins of burned-out buildings from the Martin Luther King riots decades earlier.
Judy Thomas, co-founder, Garfield Produce
“I’d drive right through these impoverished landscapes and never give it a second thought,” says Mark. “But the workforce under my direction changed drastically when the Labor Union took over. Our established workforce was primarily older white males who were Italian, Croatian and Irish. Suddenly, they were asked to manage a workforce that was around 22 years old, from the east and south sides of Chicago, mostly black and half female. This was when I became keenly aware of the problems that exist in inner city areas of the United States.”
Mark remembers telling his wife the stories he’d heard during the day, and the shocking experiences he’d had. One employee, he says, shot another employee in the break room because they were from rival gangs.
“So, I said, Judy, it would be great if we could ever get to the point that we could create a small company so that we could hire people who lived in these tough areas,” says Mark. After Mark and Judy retired, that’s exactly what they did.
“We had done some volunteer work at an organization called, ‘Breakthrough Urban Ministries,’ which is in Garfield Park, a very tough area about 30 miles west of downtown Chicago,” Mark says. “It started out as a men’ shelter, then moved to a woman’s shelter, and then a flex area where teenagers could come, and then they started preschool programs. Our biggest frustration was that people would emerge from our job readiness programs, only to find there were no jobs. White flight had taken all the jobs and businesses away.”
In 2013, after having done extensive research and attending seminars about indoor vertical farms, Mark and Judy established Garfield Produce.
“We have a lot of experience with growing produce hydroponically, and a very strong brand in the Chicago area,” says Mark. “We look forward to finding a way we can combine our strengths with Second Chances Farm’s to continue to serve the struggling neighborhoods of Chicago by providing both jobs and healthy, nutritious foods.”
For more information:
Second Chances Farm