May 29, 2024

New Farm in Chicago Southland Will Increase Healthy Local Food Availability and Job Training Opportunities

CHICAGO — On behalf of Chicago’s Urban Growers Collective, The Conservation Fund’s Chicago Metro Farms Fund has purchased a 30-acre farm in unincorporated Cook County, more than tripling the amount of land available to the nonprofit farm for cultivation.

For more than 23 years, Urban Growers Collective (UGC), a Black- and woman-run nonprofit, has worked closely with community partners to develop and support community-based food systems, providing access to nutritious fresh food and economic development opportunities. The farm purchased by The Conservation Fund (TCF) is located close to UGC’s existing customers in Chicago, allowing UGC to significantly scale operations to meet existing demand and offer advanced hands-on training to the next generation of urban farmers.

“We’re excited to be working with UGC to strengthen food systems and support farmers and farming in the Chicago metro area,” said Kelly Larsen, Midwest Farms Fund program manager. “The alarming loss of farmland to development, especially adjacent to urban areas, is undermining food system security. At TCF’s Farms Fund, we are partnering with mission-minded investors and donors to pool the resources needed to protect urban farmland before it is too late, and to connect it with a new generation of farmers who are eager to learn the business and grow good, healthy food.”

TCF launched the Farms Fund in 2021 to protect farms near urban areas and offer support to entrepreneurial new farmers. The protected farmland supplies food to local communities, provides a range of environmental benefits, supports local businesses and jobs, and creates affordable paths for land and business ownership for systemically marginalized farmers, helping close the racial wealth gap.

“After 23 years of urban farming and community food systems innovation in our city, I am excited to expand UGC’s ability to increase our contributions to local food security, activate a grower-owned cooperative, and expand market pathways for emerging growers, farmers and ranchers from communities most impacted by historic disinvestment in Illinois. The Conservation Fund has provided the technical real estate support and advocacy to make this vision a reality, and as a mission-aligned partner, we are so proud to secure more farmland for future generations,” said Erika Allen, CEO of UGC.

Using a buy-support-protect-sell model, the Farms Fund is providing UGC with immediate land access and a patient and affordable pathway to land ownership. UGC is leasing the farm, which includes a roadside farm stand along with 13,000 square feet of greenhouses and a home. The organization will meet key financial benchmarks and make infrastructure investments to put them in a position to buy it from TCF within three years after a farmland conservation easement is secured.

Key to making the land affordable, the Farms Fund model relies on philanthropic support from private foundations like Grand Victoria Foundation, a Chicago-based foundation focused on racial justice and equity, which is providing a local match that leverages federal agricultural conservation easement dollars. The easement permanently limits subdivision of the property and ensures its future use for agriculture, both of which lower the price tag for the farmer.

“At Grand Victoria Foundation, we are dedicated to closing the equity gaps for Black and Brown farmers through strategic partnerships and targeted resource allocation,” said Angela R. Rudolph, vice president of programs and strategy. “Our grant to The Conservation Fund secures essential land access, and by supporting the initiatives of Urban Growers Collective, we not only promote sustainable agricultural practices but also enhance a fair and inclusive food system that benefits the entire community.”

The Farms Fund is a national program currently securing farmland and supporting farmers in the metro areas of Atlanta, Charlotte, N.C., and Chicago, with a goal of pooling resources to expand operations to meet demand within those metro areas and add new geographies. In addition to Grand Victoria Foundation, the program is made possible by many partners and supporters, including (but not limited to) Proofing Station; Chicago Region Food System Fund; and Food:Land:Opportunity, a collaboration between Kinship Foundation and The Chicago Community Trust, funded through the Searle Funds at The Chicago Community Trust.

About The Conservation Fund
The Conservation Fund protects the land that sustains us all. We are in the business of conservation, creating innovative solutions that drive nature-based action in all 50 states for climate protection, vibrant communities and sustainable economies. We apply effective strategies, efficient financing approaches and enduring government, community and private partnerships to protect millions of acres of America’s natural land, cultural sites, recreation areas and working forests and farms. To learn more, visit

About Urban Growers Collective
Urban Growers Collective is a Black- and woman-led nonprofit farm in Chicago, Illinois, working to build a more just and equitable local food system. UGC aims to address the inequities and structural racism that exist in the food system and in communities of color. Rooted in growing food, their mission is to cultivate nourishing environments which support health, economic development, healing and creativity through urban agriculture. The team cultivates eight urban farms on 11 acres of land predominantly located on Chicago’s South Side. These farms are production oriented but also offer opportunities for staff-led education, training and leadership development. Produce from the farms is available to the public at farmers markets, through the Collective Supported Agriculture program and at the Fresh Moves Mobile Market.