AUA Spring Newsletter 2016
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Welcome to AUA's Spring Newsletter!

Dear friend, 

As we finally start shedding our layers and venturing back outside to the intoxicating smells of Spring (cherry blossoms are my favorite), it's hard not to notice that much has been a'brewing under the layers of frost and snow, both metaphorically and literally. New urban farms and gardens are popping up all over the place (and we're scrambling to make sure they're up for all to see on our map!), and it feels like there's more enthusiasm than ever to build our local food movement in new and exciting ways.

Here at AUA, we're definitely feeling that burst of Spring energy as we work on a wide array of projects and welcome a number of new faces to our Staff, Board, and Working Groups. We're delighted to introduce our Outreach Coordinator Christy Spees, who impressed all of us over the course of the last year as one of the Connections Working Group's most active members. And a special "thank you" to departing Program Assistant Jessica Surma; we wish her the very best as she settles into her new full-time position with Heartland Alliance as their Urban Agriculture Coordinator. We're also pleased to welcome our newest Board member Brian Bonanno, who brings his considerable experience as Project Manager with Delta Institute and Sustainability Manager with the Andersonville Development Corporation to AUA's leadership.

We hope that you'll enjoy reading about everything else that AUA has been up to below. Some great events are in the works, including our Spring Gathering (with a cross-cultural theme) on Sunday May 15, so we hope to see you soon. And as always, we encourage you to get involved by joining one of our working groups, signing up as a volunteer, getting in on our Google Group discussions, or even applying for a Board nomination (we currently have a couple of seats available).

In this edition of AUA's E-Newsletter you'll also find:

  • An in-depth look at this issue's featured urban agriculture project, Avium Flowers
  • A Spring recipe inspired by 2016, the International Year of Pulses
  • The launch of our Spring Donation Drive
  • A call to action in support of state legislation that will help Chicago growers
  • Reports on recent events like the Urban Livestock Expo
  • The latest from our Working Groups, which have lots of progress to report on
  • And more!
Happy growing,

Billy Burdett
AUA Executive Director




Come out to enjoy a Spring Sunday at Global Garden Refugee Training Farm to celebrate culture and hertitage in urban agriculture. Garden Manager Linda Seyler will give tours and history of the project while we all enjoy a potluck picnic and seed exchange. Please bring a dish and/or seeds to share (and reusable cutlery/dishware to reduce waste)! The Dill Pickle Food Co-op will generously be supplementing with great treats. Other culturally-focused garden groups have been invited and are encouraged to come to share their stories and visions of connecting to culture and community through gardening. This event is open to the public, and admission is FREE – spread the word! (RSVP and invite friends via Facebook here)

Project Profile: Avium Flowers

by Nick Lucas
In this edition we speak with Christine Johnson, AUA Connections Working Group Chair and Co-owner of Avium, to discuss one of Chicago's most recent and beautiful urban growing operations. Avium is a flower farm committed to operating fully within the city limits of Chicago, focusing on growing blooms and foliage with sustainable growing methods and promoting gratitude for beauty, aesthetics and mindful living every day. 

Nick Lucas: How did you and your two business colleagues meet? Was Avium something you talked about for a while, or what led to you starting a venture together?

Christine Johnson: Avium has had a serendipitous beginning. I first met Caitlin, owner of Foxglove Studio, in 2014. After unabashedly rambling about my desire to learn floral design, she graciously offered me the chance to help out on a wild wedding weekend with her, and I have been under the spell of flowers ever since. As Caitlin learned about my background and goals in agriculture and I started to learn more about the value of floriculture, the vision of Avium started to form. One month after the conception of Avium, I met Lindsey and excitedly described our plans to start a flower farm. In early spring of 2015, I went to Aquanaut Brewery, which Lindsay's then fiance (now husband) Eric owns and operates, to help prep their garden beds. We were turning soil in what is now our test bulb patch, currently filled with tulips, narcissus and fritallaria, and while lamenting about where to start a farm, pitchforks in hand, we gazed across the brewery lawn. Caitlin and Lindsey were introduced, and the three of us officially began this crazy adventure. 

NL: Why did you choose to focus on flowers instead of vegetables?

CJ: Through research and talking to farmers over the years, I noticed a common theme: growing and selling cut flowers alongside produce was an approachable way for farmers to bring profit to low grossing crops. Caitlin's floral expertise and my desire to farm naturally combined with our passions to provide local and seasonal product. We quickly realized that the resources to learn about flower farming and floriculture are sparse, especially in the Midwest. Luckily, Caitlin had recently partnered with a local grower, Jeanie McKewan, who owns Brightflower Farm in Stockton, IL. I reached out to Jeanie and she mentored me last summer without hesitation, which created the greatest (and steepest) learning experiences I have ever encountered. Jeanie's graciousness and genius in action have been a humongous source of encouragement and inspiration for us during this process. 

NL: What are your goals for 2016?

CJ: While the CSA and wholesale to local florists are the backbone of our business plan, we also aim to provide educational and hands-on learning experiences. We fully understand the difficulties it takes to start your own business, learn to farm in an urban environment, and enter the floriculture field with little to no experience but endless passion. We want to be able to provide a pathway to this that is meaningful and memorable. This season we will be hosting four workshops, the first being a vermicompost event on May 12. Future resources for flower farming in a post-wild world include a community garden, flower farmer educational cooperative and a public greenhouse.

NL: Best of luck to you! Any advice or reflections for others out there considering starting an urban agriculture business?

CJ: As many times as we have heard this, truly the best way to begin is just to begin. The three of us are diving in heads over heels, feet in the stars, into something that has proven equal parts exhilarating as it is terrifying. Any fear or hesitation we have encountered thus far have actually propelled us to work harder, learn more, dream bigger. 

If you would like your project featured in AUA's Newsletter, write to us at:

Feature: Pulse Crops and Nitrogen Fixation

by Aniki Shani

Each year, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations establishes a theme for the year that celebrates and promotes awareness about an important aspect of growing food. 2016 is the “Year of the Pulses.” In case you're wondering, pulses are a type of crop, and though they are small, they offer big benefits to the earth through nitrogen fixation.

What is Nitrogen?

Nitrogen is a non-reactive gas in the atmosphere that is found in all living things on Earth. Nitrogen gas has to be turned into a solid so that living things can use it. Nitrogen fixation is one of the best examples of balance and teamwork in nature. Naturally occurring microbes in the soil work with plants to pull nitrogen from the air. The nitrogen is changed into solid nitrogen compounds that the plant can use and, in return, the plant let’s the microbes feed on sugars it produces. The process of turning nitrogen gas into nitrogen solids is called nitrogen-fixing. This process is highly valuable as those nitrogen solids then become fertilizers for the soil. By planting nitrogen-fixing crops, growers can apply less nitrogen fertilizer to their fields (saving money and time) and improve environmental sustainability of annual cropping systems.

What are pulses exactly?

Pulses are nitrogen-fixing crops and are part of the legume family, but the “pulse” refers to the dried seed. Some examples are dried peas, dried beans, lentils, and chickpeas. Pulses are rich in fiber and protein, high in zinc, iron, phosphorous, folate and other B-vitamins.

Clearly, pulses add value for farmers and gardeners by fixing nitrogen. There are a couple of other ways you can benefit from these crops:

1) “Green” manure: As usual, your pulse crop is seeded; however, you will cut it down after the flowers blossom; before seed growth begins. The green, leafy goodness that remains can be tilled into the soil or simply left to cover the soil. No need to disturb. The next year, you have nitrogen‐rich soil that can be used to plant a non-legume crop.

2) You can allow the pulse crop to reach maturity and harvest it for sale. A pulse crop that is allowed to grow from seed to harvest produces even more nitrogen in the soil; the roots have more time to work the soil and more time to fix nitrogen. Though the first year does not result in much nitrogen, in following years more nitrogen is released. That said, it is suggested to plant pulse crops every four years so that excess nitrogen is not produced into the soil.

Fava Bean and Sweet Pea Salad Recipe

by Aniki Shani

Servings: 4-6

1 lb fresh fava beans in pod
1/2 lb fresh sweet peas in pod
3 green onions, finely chopped
~1/4 cup finely chopped fresh mint leaves
~1/4 cup finely chopped fresh dill
~1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
~1/3 cup crumbled feta (optional)

Juice of one lemon
4-5 tbsp olive oil
1 clove of garlic, finely minced (optional)

Make the dressing first by mixing all ingredients in a bowl and set aside.

-Pod and boil fava beans in salted water for 2-5 minutes. The cooking time depends on the freshness of the beans. Blanch and poke the skin to squeeze the beans out.
-Pod the sweet peas and use them as is or boil them in salted water for a 2-3 minutes and blanch.
-Mix beans and sweet peas with all the remaining "greens."
-Add crumbled feta cheese
-Stir dressing and drizzle your salad according to taste.
-Serve with fresh ground black peppercorn to taste.

Calling All Farms & Gardens!

AUA Field Days convene volunteers to help and learn at local
growing sites throughout the season

Last June, AUA launched its Field Day series with a fun and educational "Bugs, Bees & Biodiversity" walk-and-talk. Participants were treated to a very hands-on experience as they toured three growing sites in Humboldt Park and Logan Square, learning about beneficial insects, native plants, and sustainable pest management from local biologists and planting a cover crop seed mix at Earnest Earth Farm.

This year, we're excited to continue these Field Days throughout the growing season, and we'd love to hear from you if your garden or farm would like to participate by organizing a volunteer activity with a learning component. Activities could include anything from transplanting seedlings in the Spring to weeding raised beds in the Summer to building cold frames in the Fall. Our goal is to help out the many inspiring urban ag projects happening across the city by connecting them with as many people as possible in a hands-on way.

Please contact Outreach Coordinator Christy Spees at if you're interested!

Being 2000 People at Once
This is How We Do It

Organizations like AUA can be hard to describe. As a coalition, we can only really be defined by the group of people we aim to represent. So really, we are many things. We are farmers, gardeners, beekeepers, livestock raisers, markets, grocers, teachers, students, cooks, advocates, and consumers. We are Southsiders, Northsiders, Eastsiders, and Westsiders (and Suburbanites, too). We are rookies and veterans, executives and volunteers.

No doubt: the job of bringing together all these pieces of our unified identity is a big one. Luckily, AUA's Connections Working Group (one of three of our almost-entirely-volunteer committees) is up to the challenge.

By organizing educational events, networking opportunities, outreach, and written communication (like this very newsletter!), the Connections Working Group helps build our community and create new opportunities for each of you to find what inspires you to be a part of this diverse network.

If you want to learn how to raise your own chickens in Chicago, we host the annual Urban Livestock Expo where you can join other experts and enthusiasts who are doing just that. If you want to get a job managing an urban garden project, we can provide opportunities for you to network with urban agriculture organizations to facilitate your job search. If you want to learn more about growing, preserving, or composting foods, we can bring in experts to deliver engaging and informative workshops (like we did at the Good Food Festival).

The Connections Working Group is devoted to weaving together the strands of Chicagoland's urban agriculture community.

Over the next few weeks, we'll be sharing more about what our other Working Groups are doing to support you. In conjunction, we'll be raising money to help us build on that work to broaden our impact in Chicago! Our goal for the Spring Donation Drive is $1,500. It's the most we have fundraised in a drive like this yet, but we think we can do it!

Will you help us reach our goal?

Donate today by clicking the button below. You can also donate at our Spring Gathering, just over a week away!
 Our greatest thanks!
Call to Action!
Seed Sharing Bill & Statewide Legislation Updates

by AUA Executive Director Billy Burdett and ISA Policy Associate Rebecca Osland
AUA has been working for the last year to support a number of statewide initiatives being led by the Illinois Stewardship Alliance that would impact urban agriculture here in the Chicago area, and we have some great news: Senator McCann's Seed Sharing bill (SB3130) has passed the IL Senate and is now moving to the House! This bill would protect seed libraries and other non-commercial seed exchanges from unnecessarily costly and burdensome regulations (click here for details). 

However, our work is far from done. The bill remains actively opposed by the IL Department of Agriculture, the IL Farm Bureau, and industry groups. Opponents now want the bill to be amended to impose new standardized labeling requirements for both seed libraries and seed swaps. This would likely cause some gardeners to unknowingly break a new law by, for example, swapping seeds with personal friends and labeling with only the seed type and year.
Please take a moment to call and/or email members of the House Agriculture & Conservation Committee and their own State Representative (not federal Congressional representative) and ask them to support and co-sponsor SB3130, as is. This proposed amendment is unacceptable – the bill's purpose is to protect gardeners and seed sharing activities, not saddle them with expensive and onerous requirements that are better suited to commercial seed companies.
We're happy to report that significant progress has been made with other urban ag-related IL legislation as well. to continue reading and take action – your help is needed! 

HB6027 Healthy Local Food Incentives (Rep. Tryon): Creates a new program that invests in the health of low-income Illinoisans. The program would match SNAP clients' farmers market purchases with double-value coupons they could redeem at their farmers market for fruits and vegetables. State funds meet the required 50% match necessary for federal dollars to flow into our state to fund this program, and the purchases would directly benefit Illinois farmers and local economies. This bill passed the IL House unanimously in April! Please urge your State Senator to support and co-sponsor HB6027. This is an appropriations bill, so a solid vote in the Senate is still important to prevent any possibility of a Governor's veto!

HB5898 Co-op Law (Rep. Guzzardi): Opens the IL Co-operative Act to all types of businesses. This Act (originally written in 1915) currently permits formation of cooperatives only in areas such as groceries, farming activities, and manufacturing, reflecting the economy of the early 1900’s — not the service-based economy of today. Butchers, brewers, restaurants, food hubs, laundry services, bike repair shops and much more already operate successfully as cooperatives elsewhere. This bill overwhelmingly passed the IL House and will now be considered by the Senate. It has no known opposition, but those interested in expanding opportunities for worker cooperatives should ask their State Senator to support and co-sponsor HB5898.

Report: Good Food Festival & Conference

By Christy Spees

The Good Food Festival & Conference is a three-day event organized every March by Family Farmed that connects stakeholders in the good food movement and promotes awareness. By bringing together farmers, artisan food entrepreneurs, good food financiers, policy stakeholders, and consumers, those stakeholders can share information, build community, and celebrate their shared passion for local, sustainable, humane, and fair food.

This year, the weekend opened with a keynote address from Tom Vilsack, the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The first U.S. Cabinet member to appear at the conference, Vilsack inspired and assured attendees that the good food movement, as he framed it, is not just a niche rebellion of a small community of locavores. By contrast, it is an essential shift in the American food system – a shift that requires and deserves the support of a major government office (both in policy and in financing). The speech appropriately kicked off a day of discussions about innovations, both in government and in business, that will be needed in order to continue the growth of this movement, and created connections to help make it happen.

Each day of the festival had a major theme for its panels and discussions. Day one (Thursday) was Financing and Innovation, appropriately bringing together those entrepreneurial foodies who are eager to grow their business with some of the very people who may be looking for new projects to invest in. Friday's panels and discussions focused on Industry and Policy, drawing expertise from farmers, chefs, school nutrition coordinators, policy advocates, and more. AUA Executive Director Billy Burdett, Board President Harry Rhodes, Board member Martha Boyd all organized and participated in a number of food policy-related panels, including discussions about fair wages in the local food industry and using AUA's mapping and ward ambassadors projects to promote good urban ag policy. Saturday really made the weekend feel like a true festival. In the main hall, attendees could mix and mingle with over 150 exhibitors and taste and talk about their Good Food products and projects. Meanwhile, dozens of lively and engaging micro workshops took place in the Good Food Commons (half of which were proudly hosted by AUA!).

The knowledge was really there for the taking over the whole weekend. The diverse mix of topics and conversations allowed me, for one, to go home feeling more broadly informed and more deeply inspired about the good food movement that we are all a part of. It’s sometimes tempting to resign to the feeling that as individuals, we cannot change our food system. But events like the Good Food Festival & Conference remind us that we can seek out other thinkers and believers and we can band together in a community, to move this thing forward.

Report: Annual Urban Livestock Expo

by Christine Johnson

On a bright and sunny Saturday, nearly 150 guests gathered at the Chicago High School of Agricultural Sciences (CHSAS) for AUA's fourth annual Urban Livestock Expo. Chicagoans of all ages are invited to the Expo each year to learn how others raise livestock in the city and how they might do the same.

Half-hour workshops included sessions on quails, beekeeping, chickens and goats. Enthusiastic and well-prepared CHSAS students led tours for guests, highlighting coursework, project descriptions, aquaponic facilities and more, while horses grazed in the pasture that is part of the campus.   

With the goal of both introducing urban dwellers to the basics of raising and managing livestock in Chicago and providing more detailed information to those already keeping animals in their urban homesteads, local individuals, non-profit organizations, and businesses came prepared to share their experiences, advice and resources. This year's participants included Chicago Chicken Enthusiasts, Chicago Honey Co-op, University of Illinois Extension School, Christy Webber Farm & Garden, Urban Chicken Rentals, and the Goat Guardian Guild. The event was cosponsored by the Angelic Organics Learning Center.

For attendees not planning on starting their own chicken coop or beekeeping practice, it was still exciting and informative to see what is possible and what is already happening within the city limits. And the crepes served up by Gotta B Crepes were delicious – looking forward to having them back next year!

Working Group Updates

Advocacy Working Group

In addition to the great news about the Seed Sharing bill and other statewide legislation that AUA is supporting (see article above), the Advocacy Working Group is happy to report that our collaboration with the Chicago Food Policy Action Council and the Food Chain Workers Alliance to develop a new Good Food Procurement Policy for Chicago is starting to bear some fruit. We're getting very encouraging signs from the mayor's office, and the Chicago Park District has committed to running a pilot version of the program this Summer. Once fully implemented, the GFPP will direct the City of Chicago to follow a set of criteria for purchasing local, ethical, wholesome food for its various departments, impacting $250,000,000 of food purchases each year (a similar policy was successfully implemented a few years ago in Los Angeles).

The group also continues to make steady progress with many of its other initiatives, including:
  • Working with aldermen like Joe Moore and other stakeholders to develop and pass fixes to Chicago's "weed ordinance".
  • Collaborating with the IL Environmental Council (IEC), our Chicago Urban Agriculture Mapping Project (CUAMP) partners, and others to successfully implement the new compost ordinance – keep an eye out for announcements about training sessions and online registration on the CUAMP website!
  • The Ward Ambassadors Project, which aims to train and coordinate individuals from all 50 wards of Chicago to develop relationships with their aldermen and ward offices as knowledgeable and effective representatives of the local urban agriculture community. If you are interested in participating, please contact for more information.

Connections Working Group

The Connections Working Group is busy as ever! In February, we helped put together the annual Urban Livestock Expo, which was another success! We received a lot of positive feedback about the event (did you try those crepes?) and especially about the workshops. Thank you to everyone who attended or taught others!

At the end of March, we participated in the Good Food Festival & Conference by organizing a wide variety of workshops in the Good Food Commons (on everything from Square Foot Gardening to Herbal Infusions). It was a great time and the workshops were wonderful! Again, thank you to everyone who shared and took in knowledge over the weekend. We can't wait to see what the event will bring next year.

We certainly aren't slowing down any time soon. Next, we have our Spring Gathering on May 15, where we're looking forward to making rewarding new connections in our community. 

Lastly, it's time to save the date for our Summer Soiree! This was our biggest event last year and was great fun – music, wonderful food, silent auction and raffle prizes – the works! Look forward to this year's Summer Soiree on August 11th. Stay tuned for details. 

Resources Working Group

The Resources Working Group's three main projects continue to make steady progress.

AUA's Resource Guide is getting ready to move from its current WikiSpace home to a more user-friendly and attractive platform. We are looking for volunteers with web development experience to help us make this transition, with will also include a number of brand new sections covering urban agriculture business models (big thanks to the student team from Tal Yifat's Sustainable Food Enterprise Lab at UChicago!), school gardening, vermicomposting, and intensive gardening. The Resource Guide is a truly collaborative effort and a constant work in progress – many more sections, covering everything from season extension to rooftop growing to crop plan templates, are in the works – so please contact us at if you're interested in contributing! We'll be organizing work parties later this year.

The Chicago Urban Agriculture Mapping Project (CUAMP) is getting ready to welcome a new programmer who will fix some minor problems with the public submission tool (if you submitted info about your garden or farm but haven't yet seen it show up on the map or directory, fear not – it will be up there very soon!), integrate an expanded questionnaire and new search options, and add a registration tool for community gardens and farms that wish to take advantage of new composting opportunities made possible by the new compost ordinance

AUA's website continues to serve as a regularly updated source of helpful information, from job and volunteer opportunities to upcoming urban ag events and workshops to a wide array of local urban ag perspectives on our blog. If you are interested in contributing to the blog, we'd love to hear from you – click here to get started!
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