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Group wins orchard for old industrial land on South Side

Youth with Gary Comer Youth Center work redevelop former industrial property 7270 South Chicago Ave. inan urban farm producing fresh

Youth with the Gary Comer Youth Center work to redevelop a former industrial property at 7270 South Chicago Ave. into an urban farm producing fresh produce for residents of the Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood. They won a fruit orchard for their farm through Edy’s Fruit Bars “Communities Take Root” initiative, which will be planted July 12. GCYC farm planting on Wednesday, July 21st, 2010. Photos by Jasmin Shah.

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Updated: July 5, 2011 1:32PM

The two acres of vacant former industrial property at 7270 S. South Chicago Ave. doesn’t look like much now, but a large patch of ugly gray mud will soon give way to the green of a flourishing fruit orchard.

Apple, pear, cherry and nut trees are coming, courtesy of Edy’s Fruit Bars and its “Communities Take Root” initiative.

The Gary Comer Youth Center won the orchard for the Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood — a food desert — through Edy’s two-year-old initiative to promote community sustainability and healthy eating efforts.

“Our closest grocery store is about eight-tenths of a mile, but the nearest fast food restaurant is three-tenths of a mile,” said the center’s Emily Emmerman, who heads its Make Miracles Grow Foundation.

The center began work last year to redevelop the two-acre eyesore across the street into an urban farm.

The orchard project, which will support youth education programs in agriculture and culinary arts, was one of dozens submitted nationwide for Edy’s consideration.

The proposal first had to pass a viability vetting by the Pittsburgh-based international Fruit Tree Planting Foundation. Once technical factors like irrigation were met, winning was up to each applicant’s ability to generate votes.

Like so much these days, winning was based on an Internet voting popularity contest.

The center is among 10 orchard winners, and the only one in Illinois so far announced. Ten more will be chosen.

“We initiated intense nagging and networking with all of our friends and supporters, and a large part of our votes came from Gary Comer College Prep students. We had laptops set up at lunchtime, so they wouldn’t forget,” Emmerman said.

“We’re all so excited. We were determined to win.”

The farm so far this year has produced 400 pounds of broccoli, tomatoes, greens, peppers and other vegetables used for meals at the center, donated to a local food bank and sold to the community at a monthly harvest table.

The orchard, to be planted at a ceremonial event July 12, won’t produce fruit for at least two to three years.

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