When Angela Mason and Dr. Wayne Detmer met, it was an instant partnership. Both were hyperinterested in urban farming, combatting food insecurity, and improving health outcomes. They combined their passions and their resources at the Chicago Botanic Garden and Lawndale Christian Health Center respectively to start the Farm on Ogden, an aquaponics farming operation in the heart of North Lawndale, a neighborhood that sits on Chicago’s west side.
As the crow flies, the closest commodity grocery store in this community is a mile and a half away—usually requiring two bus transfers to get there. Corner stores are closer, but their produce offerings are sparse and expensive. The Farm greatly increases access to fresh food.
The Farm on Ogden’s mission is to not only provide a community center—full of health and educational resources, fresh foods, and job opportunities—in a historically under resourced neighborhood but to also reframe the narrative about North Lawndale, as an area teeming with motivated, close-knit individuals.
Angela Mason says the goal is to not only offer healthy, fresh food but to encourage people to think differently about vegetables. Many community members have never been introduced to such an abundance of edible plants, so having a variety helps expand their palate, nutrients, and diet.
Angela Mason, AVP of Community Engagement and Senior Director, Windy City Harvest
Dr. Wayne Detmer and Angela Mason were adamant about fixing this old Sherwin-Williams building rather than starting from scratch. “Part of our reasoning for not tearing down the building is because it sends a message to folks who spent their whole lives here that the way to fix the neighborhood is to destroy it, as opposed to saying, ‘Let’s restore this and maybe make it better than what it was before,’” Detmer says.
Dr. Wayne Detmer, Chief Clinical Officer of Operations, Lawndale Christian Health Center
Anyone can purchase goods from the Farm’s retail store. The team tries to keep the rotation fresh and relevant to the community, bringing in items that they can’t grow themselves like avocados and dried beans. During the pandemic, it even started offering toilet paper and other hygiene products that were scarce.
These UV lights enable the Farm to grow more produce, quicker and year-round. They also use a lot less energy than traditional bulbs, which coincides with the Farm’s sustainability mission.
Some of the water filters through this rock bed before heading into the lettuce baths. The high surface area of these rocks—coupled with the work of some worms who live beneath them—allows the water to oxygenate, creating a chemical reaction that transforms nitrogen into a more easily absorbable nutrient for the plants. All the produce grown at the Farm on Ogden is through a highly sustainable aquaponics system. Fish—in this case, tilapia—produce waste, which is then sent through a series of filters until the nutrients are stripped from it and returned into the water. This allows lettuces to grow without soil and without discarding any water or using any chemical fertilizers.