By Thomas Fisher, WhyHunger Communications Intern, Summer 2014.
From 1985-2013, WhyHunger recognized hundreds of innovative and inspired grassroots organizations across the nation with the Harry Chapin Self-Reliance Award. In 2013, we honored Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO) for their incredible work in Chicago. We’re excited to share what they’ve been up to:
Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO) addresses environmental justice and builds community power in the predominantly Mexican southwest Chicago neighborhood of Little Village. The group organizes for democracy and a voice in decisions about how, when and where development happens in the community, working to end pollution and toxic waste and increase public transit and green space in Little Village and throughout Chicago. The funds from the Harry Chapin Self-Reliance Award were used to support the LVEJO Urban Agriculture Project, including laying the groundwork for the neighborhood’s first urban farm cooperative, the Las Semillas de Justicia community garden.
Breaking ground at the LVEJO garden site.
The Las Semillas de Justicia community garden, created and led by the community, is focused on, “giving community members a space to grow organic food that many can no longer afford due to inflating costs.” LVEJO is made up of both youth and adult volunteers from Troy, Chicago. The group works with families who are fighting for food security, food justice, and environmental justice in their communities.
Through the support of WhyHunger, LVEJO has been able to construct 20 raised beds and a hoop house to grow food in lower temperatures, along with other vital urban farming infrastructure. The leadership committee’s volunteers lent their skills and expertise to better organize the volunteers and guide budget decisions. By engaging local youth and volunteers in community meetings, the team has developed guidelines for community participation. The master gardener, Fermin Meza, local youth and20 organic farmers have also pitched in shape the program’s direction.
Part of LVEJO’s tremendous support system comes from their youth advocacy program, which asks Chicago youth volunteers to spread the message of LVEJO to the community through local educational summits, protests/marches, workshops, and more. LVEJO Youth Leader Carolina Gil stated for the Lawndale News, “”We always heard if you put your mind to something, you can make a difference, but now, we know exactly what that means, and what steps we must take to achieve it.” Gil along with her Little Village counterparts are looking forward to their upcoming campaigns on the forefront of Chicago activism: fighting metro-fare increase, establishing community gardens around the city, and fighting air pollution policy abuses in disadvantaged areas.