Farmers work to ensure sustainability

By SpencerRoush

Even though there are inches of snow on the ground and trees are still bare, farmers are now beginning the long process of preparing to sell their goods at the popular outdoor Green City Market. Farmers and other vendors are currently completing the rigorous market application due on Feb. 25, and trying to fall in compliance with the market’s many rules and regulations to keep goods safe and fresh for consumption.

Three Sisters Garden is a nearly 10-acre sustainable farm with two people working the land and the occasional help of a nearby commodity farmer. Tracey Vowell, owner of the farm and her partner, Kathe Roybal, bring a variety of well-known vegetables and a couple of rare items to the market, which they have been part of for 18 months. Because there are only two people running the farm, planting, watering and making deliveries, they have little time to prepare for the market and complete the lengthy application.

“I do think [the Green City Market] has strict rules, but they are perfectly within reason,”  Vowell said. “If you want to count yourself as a sustainable market, then you really have to walk the line.”

Vowell said she has started planning for summer harvesting.

According to Vowell, she just received all of her seeds for planting and will begin weeding the farm’s dirt-floored greenhouse and clearing out the tables for future plants. She said in the seven to 10 days, the greenhouse will be filled with tomato plants.

Vowell said planning for the market takes a lot of time and the application process is “substantial.”

“The application is big,” Vowell explained. “And you have to prove to them that you’ve paid your taxes and that you’re moving along with certification, and explain to them your theories behind farming.”

She recently received the farm’s certification in the mail, which declares the farm “certified naturally grown.” Vowell said being certified organic is an expensive and timely process, but Three Sisters Garden is a chemical-free farm.

According to Green City Market’s 2010 Rules and Regulations, the market has a “serious” mission “to improve the availability of a diverse range of high-quality foods for consumers; and to promote a healthier society through educational programs that emphasize the importance of local, fresh and sustainably-raised food.”

To ensure sustainable farming practices are being used, the market manager has the job of “policing” the goods and techniques used at the farms, and may conduct on-site inspections of the farms or other establishments.

Farmers are required to map out the design of their farms. They are responsible for showing how their compost system works and providing the details of their farming techniques to ensure sustainable practices are being used.

Padraic Swanton, director of Marketing and Communications at the Lincoln Park Chamber of Commerce, said sustainable farming practices and locally grown, organic produce are the largest draws to the Green City Market.

“One of the most important parts about the green movement, whether it’s for fresh food or locally grown food, or even just recyclable materials in an office, this is what customers are looking for,” Swanton said. “And if businesses can’t keep up with the trend, then they will eventually fall behind.”

He said he expects the market to be even bigger this year and that Lincoln Park is a thriving place to sell sustainable goods.

David Rand, farm forager for the city of Chicago and the Green City Market, said 2009-2010 was the market’s best indoor season ever.

“One of the most important things that any farmer’s market brings to the neighborhood is the availability of fresh food and fresh ingredients, which is something I think there is a huge market for, especially in our neighborhood,” Swanton said.

The Green City Market has new hours this year and will open at 7 a.m. and close at 1 p.m. The market is located between the corner of Clark Street and Stockton Drive, near the Chicago History Museum.