Left with 1,000 pounds of fresh produce from the Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center gardens at the start of the pandemic, long-time gardener Jean Fies decided to distribute the leftovers to District 65 families picking up lunches. The experience made Fies realize the potential Evanston gardens have to combat food insecurity. She reached out to like-minded organizations and residents in a collaborative effort that eventually evolved into Evanston Grows, for which she is the board president.
Founded in April 2021, Evanston Grows aims to fight food injustice through urban gardening alongside a board, contracted workers, and a network of community growing groups, including Curt’s Café and Edible Evanston. “We decided that the best structure would be a collective,” Fies said. “This structure could help support the groups’ ongoing efforts and create new projects together that would even more significantly address food insecurity and health equity.”
Evanston Grows works with multiple partnership gardens — a range of revitalized sites, newly built spaces, land owned by the city, and private property. Group members, local neighbors, and community volunteers maintain the gardens through a joint effort. While some of the harvested produce goes to neighbors, Evanston Grows also has a farmstand that distributes free produce every Wednesday at Fleetwood-Jourdain. The collective plans to open another stand this summer in South Evanston at 300 Dodge Ave.
Evanston Grows coordinates with the city and District 65 social workers, who identify and contact residents who may struggle with food insecurity to share the pickup locations with them. Fies said the weekly produce bag pickups from the farmstand fulfill produce needs throughout the 20-week growing season.
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