I’d like to document how Kate Mahoney & PEER Services intersected with my work on Food + Farms + Democracy to create a new community asset. In the history of U.S. urban agriculture and farm-to-school, it may be a unique story.
Across the street from the the main entrance to Evanston Township High School was an empty city lot, about 1/8 acre at the corner of Dodge & Davis. It was a long-time presence in ETHS culture because students would cross the street during breaks to sit there and smoke, thinking that they were not violating any school rule. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to most residents of Evanston, ETHS (District 202) does in fact own that empty lot, commonly known as The Log, and school administrators were responsible for enforcing the school’s no smoking policy at that site. It was a chronic headache for everyone.
In about 2008, the stars aligned to solve the problem by bringing PEER Services, ETHS, and the Evanston Food Policy Council together in creating the Edible Acre Pilot Project at Evanston Township High School. We quickly put a team together to find funding, design the site, add a water source, and build about 28 raised beds, some of which were to be reserved as plots for neighbors.
Although I haven’t visited ETHS in many years now and the Evanston Food Policy Council no longer exists, I believe EAPP is still operational. Whether or not students (or others) still smoke at EAPP-formerly-known-as-The-Log, I do not know. I hope not because tobacco is a known vector for plant diseases on a variety of edible crops (not to mention the toxic chemicals in most commercial cigarettes). But I think it safe to say that the EAPP is an asset to the community and represents the power of coalition building and community partnerships.
I’m glad that I got to express my thanks to Kate Mahoney a few years ago for PEER Services’ part in kick-starting the Edible Acre project. Knowing the ubiquity of cigarette debris in Evanston, I can’t help but think she’d support implementing the full Edible Acre vision on another 7/8 acres of ETHS property.
— Debbie Hillman