Group wants to create green revolution for Southwest Side with clean jobs, locally grown produce
Cultivate Collective, one of six finalists vying for the Pritzker Traubert Foundation $10 million prize, wants to transform a vacant lot into a leading example of green design.
Niquenya Collins grew up in a Southwest Side bungalow near the Stevenson expressway, Midway airport and foul-smelling industrial sites.
“There’s a lot of waste being produced, and you can literally smell it in the air and even inside your home,” said Collins, whose mother still lives in the house.
Today, the 45-year-old woman is president of a group that’s working to make the Garfield Ridge area greener and cleaner for subsequent generations.
Her group, Cultivate Collective, has a $75 million plan to convert vacant land in the neighborhood into a farm, a charter school and greenhouses. There would also be a green business incubator facility, which would contain enough solar panels allowing the structure to be completely energy self-sufficient.
The collective hopes to help finance the project with a $10 million grant from the Pritzker Traubert Foundation.
The group is one of six finalists — all nonprofits with projects on the city’s South and West sides.
Listen to an interview with the Cultivate Collective on “Reset” on WBEZ.
The Chicago Prize 2022 money is part of a larger $30 million commitment by the foundation to increase development over the next three years on the South and West sides.
The foundation plans to announce the winner in December.
The group wants to redevelop six acres of vacant land on the former LeClaire Courts public housing complex site, located in an area with some of the worst air quality rates in Chicago, according to a 2020 city report.
In the spring, the group started construction on a 71,000-square-foot facility that will contain the Academy for Global Citizenship charter school, a grocery store and a health care clinic. It is expected to be completed next summer.
The group hopes the Pritzker Traubert Foundation grant would help with the second portion of the project, which would include an enclosed hydroponic farm. It would produce about 100,000 pounds of vegetables a year — enough vegetables to supply the grocery store and meals at the school, officials said.
“This is a project that will begin to help heal the community,” said resident Alicia Ponce, founder of APMonarch architecture firm, which would design the facility for the farm.
The buildings will meet some of the strictest environmental standards around, she said, including being free of toxic materials and producing more energy than they consume.
The project will turn over a new leaf for the neighborhood, she said, providing resources in a green fashion and green spaces in which to enjoy them.
The project also would include green houses, an orchard, walking trails and other green spaces.
The group also wants a green business center to help residents find jobs in the clean energy sector, which is expected to grow as the state attempts its goal of having 100% of clean energy by 2050, officials said.
“It’s an opportunity for us to make sure the residents and business owners don’t get left behind,” said Adrian Soto, executive director of the Greater Southwest Development Corporation and member of the group.
The Chicago Sun-Times receives funding from the Pritzker Traubert Foundation.
Michael Loria is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South and West sides.