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The Student News Site of University of Chicago Laboratory High School

U-High Midway

The Student News Site of University of Chicago Laboratory High School

U-High Midway

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Plant Chicago focuses on fostering community

Plant Chicago, a nonprofit organization based in the southside of Chicago, hopes to form local circular economies.
Naomi Benton
Sowing Seeds. Kathleen Valdez, the product manager at Plant Chicago, plants seeds to be harvested in the Indoor Victory Garden. Despite it not being in her job description, Ms. Valdez enjoys working beyond her parameters to help the community. “I’m proud to work at a sustainably focused, unique organization that gives us the flexibility to find our interests and implement them in our day to day,” Ms. Valdez said.

An abandoned former fire station sits on the south side of Chicago. What used to be a dark and empty corner of the Back of the Yards neighborhood, now bursts with vibrant colors, luscious plants and, most importantly, community.

Planting seeds, watering plants and selling food, a welcoming team waits behind these doors along with several U-High volunteers. 

Plant Chicago, a nonprofit organization serves its mission of cultivating local circular communities and sustainable economies through events, workshops and farming.

While people might assume by the name that Plant Chicago is solely focused on improving the environment, the initiatives stretch way beyond this. 

Plant Chicago focuses on improving the general problems of the neighborhood and then working on these issues through an environmental lens.

Kathleen Valdez, the product manager, puts the main priorities of Plant Chicago at three tiers: food access, small business support and education. 

“My focus is to, like, bring food access initiatives, like more prominent into the community, make the neighbors more aware of like community gardens and get them, like, a little bit more involved in the kind of work and just have a more creative understanding,” Ms. Valdez said.

To improve food accessibility within the community, Denise Covarrubias, the food access manager, prices the in-store goods Plant Chicago sells and agrees to reduce the price for someone in need. 

One of the most important events that target food access is The Market, a farmers market with stands from local farmers and small businesses. This food is fresh, and healthy — direct from the farm to the table. 

Maya Livni, a U-High sophomore who volunteers at Plant Chicago, has attended one of these farmers markets. 

“There were a lot of walk-ins, people that were not really aware of what the market was and were surprised to see, I don’t know, just like such an active market,” Maya said. 

One of the ways Plant Chicago advertises events to the community, such as the market, is by posting flyers around the neighborhood..   

“I am proud that the organization is making such a big effort to connect with the community. I don’t think it’s always successful. But sometimes we just try different things, and some things stick,” said Ms. Valdez. 

Tied with awareness, education is essential to the mission of Plant Chicago and is seen in action through workshops on things such as aquaponics, beekeeping and composting.  

“I think it brings a lot of education that isn’t offered really anywhere else right now,” Ms. Covarrubias said. 

Maya found her volunteer experience meaningful, and would recommend others to join. 

“They have a strong tie to their community, so being able to learn and work with people from the community was very valuable to me,” Maya said. “I had a big interest in biology, and being able to learn about the different types of biology, and how they are applicable in everyday lives were also very interesting.” 

Plant Chicago holds community at the core of their mission and invites everyone to come and stop by, no matter the reason.

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About the Contributor
Naomi Benton
Naomi Benton, Reporter
Naomi Benton is a beginning journalist in the Class of 2026. She is also a member of Jewish Students' Association and Women In STEM, and is on the tennis and soccer teams.

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