Smart Farm grew from a frustration with blandness and accessibility. Why were families eating food without color and nutrition? Why didn’t they have access to the fresh food from farms that grew beautiful produce that strengthens and energizes?
In the Midwest, the growing season is short, and produce at most stores has to travel thousands of miles to get there. It is often too expensive for most families to purchase consistently. Something needed to be done — for the needy without access and for those with access but who did not know what to do with the harvest.
It took curiosity. One community member began reading more about food deserts, the organic movement, and buying local. Kathy Gabelman scouted restaurants that ordered farm-to-table, and studied up on growing her own produce. She decided that she wanted to grow produce and give it to food pantries, which often only accepted canned goods and other non-perishables. If she brought fresh food to them every week, she could bring access to those who currently had none.
Gabelman gathered a group of friends, met a master gardener, and began growing in small plots at a community garden space in the Barrington Park District. Volunteers from the community showed up three days a week to help seed, plant, weed, and harvest. Each week during harvest season, they would yield a colorful pile of produce and carry it to the local food pantries. As the harvest grew, so did the desire to share the spark that came with the new knowledge of local farming. Workshops and classes were offered for anyone who wanted to grow and cook beautiful, healthy food. Gabelman and Smart Farm volunteers built a community of learners who could expand the cause as they crouched proudly in their own gardens.
With the need for more space, Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital offered land on their campus where Smart Farm began composting food scraps and expanded its farming area. In 2011, Smart Farm added a hoop house to extend its growing season and in 2015 bought a tractor to feed the soil in a still-expanding operation.
Today Smart Farm grows and donates close to 8 tons or 16,000 lbs of produce each year, teaches workshops for kids and adults, and hosts a farm-to-table fundraising dinner with local chefs who spread the word about the importance of fresh, local food. Ours is a pride in making and sharing something that can bring joy and help people improve their lives. Although our work focuses on a small geographic area, its cause is universal and essential: bright food for a healthy, sharing community.
The Smart Farm will cultivate a healthy, eco-friendly community by:
Average travel distance for food items now consumed in this state
Agricultural products sold directly for human consumption from Illinois farm sales
The amount of organic food sold in Illinois that is grown and processed outside of the state, resulting in food dollars being exported
llinois ranking in the nation in loss of farmland