Organic fruit farm to grow in south side neighborhood


Lou Foglia

Certified horticulturist Breanne Heath, 33, points out a bumblebee perched inside of a fungi located inside an organic fruit orchard at 5041 S. Laflin St.

By Metro Reporter

Chicago’s South Side residents will have access to a new supplier of some fresh produce. 

Breanne Heath’s new pie patch farm—a pie patch that grows fruits that can be used to make pie fillings—will be located in the Back of the Yards neighborhood at the headquarters of Su Casa Catholic Worker, 5041 S. Laflin St., a south side organization that provides resources to homeless Latino families. The piece of land being used for the pie patch spans just less than a half acre, and the organization plans to mainly grow strawberries, according to Heath.

She used to work with Growing Home, a farming nonprofit that managed Su Casa’s garden, until the summer of 2014, when Growing Home moved on, according to Su Casa worker Dominic Giafagleone. The garden was subsequently not given proper care due to a lack of people tending to it, said Giafagleone.

Heath said Su Casa approached her shortly after leaving Growing Home.

“They were looking for an individual or organization to maintain their property, and that’s when I told them the idea for the pie patch,” Heath said.

She said she was inspired to start the pie patch from childhood memories of summers spent picking wild flowers and blackberries in Indiana. Heath said she thinks Chicago residents would benefit greatly from better access to produce.

“Most of the farmers in Chicago are growing vegetables, and I do not think people are growing fruit in quantity regardless of the neighborhood,” Heath said. 

She added that she plans to make the organic pie patch a pick-your-own facility mostly consisting of strawberries, but including other fruits and vegetables such as rhubarb, ground cherries, sugar pie pumpkins, sweet squash, sweet potatoes, raspberries, golden raspberries and elderberry bushes.

Not only will the pie patch bring more fresh produce options to local residents, but there is a social benefit to a pick-your-own pie patch, as opposed to traditional-style pie patches that transport food to a market, Giafagleone said.

“It gets people more involved with what they are eating and their produce,” Giafagleone said. “It gives kids more of a sense that fruits and vegetables don’t come from the supermarket. They don’t come from little plastic containers. They come from the earth. It’s like a nice community event, really, where people can enjoy the sunshine and each other’s company while picking some fresh, healthy fruit.”

Giafagleone said the pie patches location is ideal as well. Many neighborhoods on the city’s South Side are considered food deserts—parts of urban areas lacking fresh fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods. This farm will provide residents with better access to healthier food options than what they are used to, Giafagleone said. 

Sheila Cassani, project manager at The FruitGuys Community Fund, a San Francisco-based fruit delivery service, said FruitGuys gave the farm a $3,033 grant—one of the eight grants the company gave out this year. The grant will go toward various expenses such as installing water drip irrigation, healthy pollinator hedgerows and seeds for living mulch that will help soil retain moisture. 

“The farm will also be doing some outreach components by putting up flyers in Spanish and English to announce some of their events around their farm,” Cassani said. 

Cassani said FruitGuys is very excited about the pie patch being a pick-your-own model focused on giving back to the community. The  grant agreement requires the farm to donate half of the produce grown on site, Cassani said.

“Many people who live in the city [never] get the opportunity to leave it, and attending this farm seems to make a strong connection for folks for where their food comes from,” she said.