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MAYWOOD | Although there is presently no grocery store in Maywood following the December, 2016 closing of Aldi’s, Maywood residents and those in neighboring Proviso Township communities have a source where they can purchase fresh produce—all of which is organic.
And it’s all grown in Maywood.
The Proviso Partners for Health (PP4H)—a multi-sector coalition formed in 2014 to not only advance action on childhood obesity but promote overall health and create a culture of health—operates and oversees a community garden, called the Giving Garden, located at 50 W. Madison, directly across the street from the Proviso East High School football field.
There, produce such as summer squash, four different types of tomatoes, eggplant, collards, kale, chard, carrots, peppers (Jalapeno, lunchbox and bell), head lettuce, okra, asparagus and watermelon are grown and a.) either sold directly to residents who are invited to stop by every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 50 W. Madison from now through November, or b.) donated to the Quinn Community Center in Maywood and to other organizations that might need it, according to Christopher Epps, PP4H’s farm manager and agricultural consultant.
“The goal is to raise the health of the overall population,” said Epps, “That’s our No. 1 goal is to provide not only quality vegetables but see results in what we’re doing. The goal is to make Maywood, Broadview and Bellwood a healthier place.”
This is the first year that produce from the Giving Garden is being sold to the general public. Epps says they have been averaging between $75 to $100 in sales every week.
“It’s not great, but it’s progress,” he said, “and the sales are growing each and every week. People are coming out and things are looking on the up and up.”
Epps notes that every Saturday, “We have younger people and older people come in to buy the vegetables. Surprisingly, the young people have been some of our best customers. I have to do a better job of getting the word out and doing a better job of getting older people and working people out here.”
PP4H is comprised of the Quinn Center, the Proviso-Leyden Council for Community Action, Proviso East High School, the Green Business Network, Loyola University Health System, the Loyola University-Chicago Stritch School of Medicine and the Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing.
In March, 2016, PP4H received a $2.5 million grant over a five-year period from Trinity Health as part of its Transforming Communities Initiative.
Mary D’Anza of Loyola University-Chicago—a registered dietician and the school and wellness coordinator for PP4H—says that promoting healthy food and giving residents access to healthy, affordable food is very important to her.
“I’ve seen a great coalition grow and expand and really work together with all of our partners,” D’Anza said. “The food access hub is just one sector of the (PP4H) coalition. We have school health and tobacco-free living, build environments, elementary school health and food access.”
In May, a proposal by PP4H to raise the age to purchase tobacco in Maywood from 18 to 21 was unanimously approved the Maywood Village Board.
“That comes from our partnership with the Respiratory Health Association and the community wanting that,” D’Anza said. “The (Maywood) Police Department is a huge partner of ours. It really is a collaborative effort from everybody.”
Produce from the Giving Garden is grown and maintained by 15 student interns from throughout Proviso Township—primarily through Proviso East’s Ecology Club and Wellness Committee—along with youth and adult volunteer help from outside the district. Epps said that volunteers also come from the Quinn Center on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.
One of the interns, Keiom Mackey of Berkeley, a senior at IC Catholic Prep in Elmhurst, has been involved with the garden for around five months. He spent one particular Saturday organizing all the volunteers for that day. Mackey said he wants to go into urban agriculture.
Both Mackey and another intern, Valerie Sanchez of Maywood, pointed out the importance of having the Giving Garden as a source of fresh produce in the aftermath of Aldi’s closing.
Without this garden, Mackey said, “You have to go miles for fresh, organic produce.”
“I wanted to be a marine biologist or a doctor,” Sanchez said, “but now that I’m doing this, I’m thinking that on my way there, I’ll be more involved in my community because Maywood is a food desert so it’s really important to me. I eat a lot of vegetables.”
Sanchez, who said she’s also involved at the Quinn Center with her family, works as an intern primarily doing sales at the Giving Garden. She says she’s noticed an uptick in the number of residents who’ve been stopping by to purchase produce.
“For the first couple of Saturdays people didn’t really know we were out here so there weren’t that many,” she said. “But today we’re going to maybe have 15 people and they usually come and spend $15 and they clean us out.”