JULY 11- Angela Taylor has been helping her neighbors grow food for years on the west side of Chicago. Soon, she’ll be helping some of them grow food businesses.

Taylor learned how to grow stuff at a young age. “Me being the youngest girl, I didn’t get to do the laundry and other chores inside,” she remembers. “I had to go outside and help daddy with the gardening.”

She and her husband moved into their current home, in the East Garfield Park neighborhood, in 2004. There was an abandoned community garden next door, covering two city lots, with raised beds. “Right in front of where the garden had been [was] a notorious zone for the drug traffic,” Taylor recalls. “They sat in front of the garden on milk crates selling drugs all day and all night.”

She and her sisters cleaned up the space and put it back into use. It’s become the hub of the Garfield Park Community Council’s Community Garden Network, with 32 resident-led gardens scattered throughout East and West Garfield Park. Each garden provides some fresh fruits and vegetables for the gardeners, their families and neighbors, and the rest gets sold at the council’s bimonthly Neighborhood Market, which accepts food stamps as payment. “I’m sure you know we’re living in a food desert, and there is a lack of fresh produce,” says Taylor, who retired in 2012 from the Illinois Department of Human Services.

Taylor’s garden now has a rainwater catchment and irrigation system, and a community greenhouse with solar-powered heating and lighting. Every growing season, the garden network takes seedlings from the greenhouse to get started, and there’s enough left over to share with gardeners from other neighborhoods. There’s no more drug trafficking out front.

“When I first moved in, the seniors on my block wouldn’t even come out and sit on their porch because of all the drug trafficking,” Taylor adds. “But go there now and they’re sitting on their porch, some of them are taking naps, because now they feel safer in that type of environment. There’s not too much more to be said about that.”

Taylor hopes that The Hatchery, a brand-new, 67,000-square-foot food business incubator coming to the neighborhood, may have a similar effect on a much larger scale.

“It will change the synergy in that space,” she says. “The corner of Kedzie and Lake has been notorious, there’s no other way of saying it. Open-air drug trafficking, open-air drug use, prostitution, public drunkenness, you name it.”

The Hatchery is a joint venture of two other Chicago nonprofits, the Industrial Council of Nearwest Chicago (ICNC) and Accion Chicago. Upon completion in 2018, the facility will contain 56 private kitchens, one shared kitchen, dry-cold storage, loading docks, and meeting and office spaces. Accion Chicago, a community development financial institution (CDFI) and the region’s largest nonprofit microlender, will also relocate its headquarters to The Hatchery. The design calls for a tree-lined public plaza out front that will be a permanent home for the Garfield Park Community Council’s Neighborhood Market.

Read more from the Next City article here.