A GREEN THUMB’S-UP

State gives boost to ur­ban farm pro­ject that is ex­pected to bring jobs, food, re­new­able en­ergy to South Side

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - BY MANNY RAMOS, STAFF RE­PORTER mramos@sun­times.com | @_ManuelRamo­s_ Con­tribut­ing: Clare Proc­tor Manny Ramos is a corps mem­ber in Re­port for Amer­ica, a not-for-profit jour­nal­ism pro­gram that aims to bol­ster Sun-Times cov­er­age of is­sues af­fect­ing Chicago’s

A large-scale ur­ban farm­ing cam­pus that prom­ises to bring jobs, fresh food and re­new­able en­ergy to Chicago’s South Side is get­ting a fi­nan­cial boost from the state.

Green Era Re­new­able En­ergy and Ur­ban Farm­ing Cam­pus will re­ceive $2 mil­lion from the state through Re­build Illi­nois — a pro­gram giv­ing grants for in­fras­truc­ture de­vel­op­ment in dis­tressed ar­eas.

That money, along with a $1 mil­lion loan from the Illi­nois En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency, al­lowed Green Era to se­cure the fi­nal bit of fund­ing needed to de­velop the $32 mil­lion pro­ject on the 9-acre land that is a brown­field site.

A brown­field is a site that is con­sid­ered to have hazardous ma­te­ri­als or pol­lu­tants in the soil and must be re­me­di­ated be­fore de­vel­op­ment can take place. Green Era has been clean­ing it up over the last sev­eral years.

Erika Allen, co-founder of Green Era, said they have worked to se­cure fund­ing for the pro­ject for al­most 10 years, and to know by spring 2022 the cam­pus will be fully op­er­a­tional is ex­cit­ing.

“I’m really ex­cited to have our young peo­ple see that their hard work paid off,” Allen said. “Not only will we be pro­vid­ing jobs that will give liv­ing wages, but it is re­as­sur­ing that folks don’t have to leave their com­mu­nity to get a good job.”

Green Era also got a share of the in­au­gu­ral Chicago Prize, an­nounced on Thurs­day by the Pritzker Traubert foun­da­tion. Split­ting that $10 mil­lion award with Green Era was a “healthy life­style hub” at 79th and Hal­sted streets.

The Green Era op­er­a­tion, on the north­west cor­ner of 83rd and Wal­lace streets, is ex­pected to cre­ate 240 con­struc­tion jobs for the de­vel­op­ment of the cam­pus and 47 per­ma­nent jobs for the com­mu­nity with hun­dreds of other con­tract­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties.

“For years, this pro­ject has been a bril­liant idea on pa­per lack­ing the fund­ing to get off the ground — and the brown­field where we now stand has been va­cant for decades more,” said Gov. J.B. Pritzker. “But this is a pro­ject that com­bines cap­i­tal in­vest­ment with re­new­able en­ergy, food pro­duc­tion and ac­cess with cli­mate-smart job train­ing pro­grams and ed­u­ca­tion, new work op­por­tu­ni­ties with a com­mu­nity hub.”

Green Era is also part­ner­ing with Black Chicago To­mor­row and the city to de­velop work­force train­ing; lo­cal res­i­dents and for­merly in­car­cer­ated in­di­vid­u­als will get pri­or­ity.

The cam­pus will have a 13,000-square-foot green­house — room to grow 14,000 pounds to 26,000 pounds of or­ganic pro­duce a year. It will be sold on site and through the group’s mo­bile mar­ket.

More im­por­tantly, the fa­cil­ity will be a hub for de­vel­op­ing green en­ergy us­ing re­cy­cled ma­te­ri­als. Green Era plans to com­post 85,000 tons of re­cy­cled food and waste at the fa­cil­ity, pro­duc­ing meth­ane gas that will in turn be used to gen­er­ate elec­tric­ity and heat.

Gen­er­at­ing en­ergy through com­post­ing will re­duce car­bon diox­ide emis­sions by 42,500 tons per year — the equiv­a­lent of taking 9,182 cars off the road.

“We are headed in a new era — which is why we are called ‘Green Era’ — where we have to con­sider the en­vi­ron­ment, and it can no longer be an af­ter­thought,” Allen said. “As in­dus­try shifts in re­sponse to cli­mate change and as we be­come more [cli­mate] re­silient, we want to make sure the South Side is fully able to take ad­van­tage of that new econ­omy.”

Green Era has al­ready se­cured a part­ner­ship with BP to sell the en­ergy pro­duced at the fa­cil­ity.

The com­post will also be avail­able to res­i­dents with home gar­dens, Allen said.

“Peo­ple can also get com­post from us where they can pick it up or have it de­liv­ered,” Allen said. “Our de­liv­ery man can get them 5 yards of com­post; they can also pur­chase plants and flow­ers for their gar­dens.”

PRO­VIDED IM­AGE

A ren­der­ing shows what the $32 mil­lion Green Era Re­new­able En­ergy and Ur­ban Farm­ing Cam­pus will look like when it opens in Auburn Gre­sham in 2022.

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