It’s late afternoon and the rush-hour commuter trains streak north and south through a battered stretch of Chicago’s South Side. Passengers gazing out the window do double takes as a swath of verdant green farm dotted with workers comes into view, rising among the scarred vacant lots and boarded-up houses.
Sprouting from the very center of the two acres of kale, beans, tomatoes, and fading sunflowers, are the wooden bones of an open-air barn. On its sliding door, a black star. And then it’s gone in a blur. The trains hurtle onward.
What they are seeing, says Emmanuel Pratt, is the future.
Pratt, 42, is the executive director and cofounder of the Sweet Water Foundation, which oversees this site, known as the Perry Avenue Commons. Pratt was named to the Grist 50 in 2018. Late last month, he was awarded a 2019 MacArthur “genius award,” which comes with a 5-year, $625,000 grant to support his work.
That work begins with growing and sharing food, but it goes far beyond that. Pratt says that, done right, urban farming can be a healing tool for cities. “We have all been displaced, disconnected from our humanity,” he says. “We must now build communities toget... Read more