Article by: Crystal Diaz
Plant Chicago Local Food Access Intern
Student at The College of Saint Benedict
In early March, I found myself in an unprecedented situation. Without a question, I expected to finish my sophomore year on my beautiful college campus in Minnesota. As a result of the pandemic, I rushed home to Chicago, uncertain of how I’d wrap up my Spring semester. I even had to question whether I’d have an internship this summer. Thankfully, even under those circumstances, my summer with Plant Chicago was such a rewarding experience. Jobs were lost and securing food access became a more prevalent problem in our community. As a response to COVID-19, the Link Produce Box program was born. I had the privilege of coordinating this program throughout the summer. Every Friday, we distributed boxes of food to Link cardholders in the Back of the Yards and surrounding neighborhoods. Each box included fresh veggies, fruit, bread, and eggs, and cardholders would only pay half of its original value.
It’s no secret that low income neighborhoods have limited access to high-quality and healthy foods, and that food stamps recipients are specifically vulnerable populations. It’s an issue that I hope to continue working toward eliminating in the future. Anyway, coordinating the Link Produce Box (LPB) Program consisted of a lot of community outreach work in Back of the Yards. Usually, I spend my summers in Wyoming, but my summer in Back of the Yards connected me back with my Latinx community. To limit in-person interactions due to COVID-19, I spent most of my internship working from home. As I took responsibility for this food access program, it was my goal to expand to reach a bigger population. By the end of my internship, we had a larger and consistent list of LPB recipients. To expand the program, I reached out to various community organizations and individuals. My coworker, Stef, and I created an intake survey that was shared on Plant Chicago’s social media platforms that successfully attracted a lot of LPB recipients.
I created flyers in Spanish and English on Canva, a website used to design creative content, and walked around the neighborhood to pass them out. I shared them with local businesses, individuals, and even posted them on busy streets. I also connected with organizations like Neighborhoods for Environmental Justice and Increase the Peace, who distributed free food to hundreds of families. I was able to talk to hundreds of people at these food distribution events to promote the Link Produce Box program.
On Saturdays, I assisted in setting up Plant Chicago’s farmers market. I greatly enjoyed working at the market, even more so knowing that this was one of the Southside Chicago’s only markets. I learned a lot about the importance of farming and small businesses from speaking with the vendors at the market. Truth be told, before I interned here, I believed farmers markets were only for white people and people with money. It made me happy that Plant Chicago’s market was in Back of the Yards because it meant more were exposed to farmers markets and had access to fresh, nutritious food. Moreover, all of the vendors accept Link, which only made food more accessible to everyone. During market days, another intern and I worked together to process the Link card transactions. We also made a recipe every week that included ingredients from every vendor at the market, to inspire dinner plans for the farmers market customers.
Although this summer was full of uncertainties, leading this food access program was the most rewarding job experience I have had. I learned a lot about myself, my community’s needs, and the circular economy. As I am wrapping up my summer, I am I have been inspired to continue work in food access. I’m excited to take back what I have learned at Plant Chicago and take on my third year of college.