Image courtesy of Elizabeth Gilmore

Regenerating School and Urban Community Farms in Southwest Chicago

Category Regenerate

One Earth’s Project Marketplace funds on-the-ground climate solutions that are key to solving the climate crisis through three pillars of collective action — renewable energy, ecosystem conservation, and regenerative agriculture. This project creates regenerative urban farms through youth leadership, community action, and social justice.

When she was 23 years old, Sarah Elizabeth Ippel rode her bicycle to the Chicago Board of Education with a request “to reimagine what is possible in public education today.” She founded the Academy for Global Citizenship (AGC) three years later. This K-8 school focuses on whole-child learning, environmental education, social justice, entrepreneurship, and creating the next generation of leaders.

Still, many in the surrounding Southwest Chicago area, where the school is located, don’t have access to the elements of a healthy community, such as green spaces, nature, fresh food, and clean air.

While the decades of environmental injustices in this region cannot be undone overnight, AGC aims to start by creating a community center and regenerative farm powered by renewable energy called Catalyst Southwest (CSW).

Photo: Courtesy of the Academy for Global Citizenship.

Building a community centered on people and the planet

Support for this project will reenvision what a community can be when it is centered with people and the environment in mind. It will establish nature-based gathering places, neighborhood gardens, wellness facilities, and health resources.

Three acres of land will be turned into a regenerative agriculture site, where the community will grow their own nutritious food. This urban farm will use entirely recycled water through rainfall collection. Other fresh produce will be provided to the community through the social enterprise-run Community Farm Café, Fresh Foods Store, and Esperanza Health Center’s on-site Food Pharmacy program.

Rethinking education for all ages

Funding will also support the 620 children attending the tuition-free early childhood and K-8 public school rooted in personal, public, and planet wellness. It will enable a cradle-to-college pipeline fundamental to ending intergenerational poverty and cultivating regenerative communities.

A variety of spaces will support culinary arts and positive nutrition for people of all ages, including six on-site teaching kitchens with courses in sustainable cooking. All student meals will be prepared this way, using organic foods grown on campus.

Photo: Courtesy of the Academy for Global Citizenship

Uplifting all involved

Not only will CSW benefit the community after completion but during the building process as well. Over 1,000 green jobs will be created throughout construction, prioritizing hiring women, minorities, and local members.

Apprenticeship positions will also be given in sustainable technology and green construction methods, providing a pathway toward long-term employment.

Spreading sustainability throughout the country

In addition to providing services to children and families, CSW wants to share its strategies with schools, districts, and communities to improve local and national educational systems and neighborhoods.

To date, the AGC model has been shared with over 10,000 educators who have, in turn, impacted over five million children. Catalyst Southwest will serve as a national demonstration site that provides educators, policymakers, and community leaders opportunities to study the holistic neighborhood revitalization model.

Photo: Courtesy of the Academy for Global Citizenship.

Uniting climate justice and social justice

Those behind this project are firm believers that addressing the underlying contributors to poverty and racial injustice are directly linked to climate justice, as minority communities are often disproportionately impacted by environmental pollution and lesser access to nature. To address environmental injustice and air pollution in the local neighborhood, Catalyst Southwest is on track to meet the world’s most ambitious sustainability standards.

CSW will produce more clean energy than it uses through solar arrays, wind turbines, and geothermal wells. It will share the anticipated energy surplus with the surrounding community.

As a climate solution, it is estimated that this clean energy model will eliminate 4,250 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, the three-acre farm will sequester 180 tons of carbon within ten years.

Breaking ground and next steps

Already underway through generous donations, the project broke ground in April 2022. The construction thus far has included the foundations and framing of the primary community facility, extensive soil and land restoration, and the installation of 50 geothermal wells to help achieve net-positive energy generation.

Once the facility is fully enclosed by the end of the year, the team will focus on building interior spaces and the three-acre farm, community walking trails, orchards, native prairies, wetlands, apiaries, and nature-based playscapes.

A new partner, the community-based non-profit Cultivate Collective, has also come on board. The president of the organization, Niquenya Collins, grew up next door to the project site, and her family has lived in the LeClaire Courts neighborhood for five generations.

Photo: Courtesy of Elizabeth Gilmore 

Empowering one community could change the world

What began as a bike ride for change has turned into a way to rethink, relearn, and relive in Southwest Chicago. With support, CSW will educate the next generation of youth climate leaders, feed and nurture communities, regenerate the Earth, provide clean energy and jobs, and heal wounds inflicted by environmental and social injustice.

It is a model Ippel, Collins, and the entire AGC team hope can be replicated and spread throughout the country and, ultimately, the globe. To stop the climate crisis, there must be a paradigm shift in every way of living, and this change starts at the community level.