Reverend Linda Wygant pulls up to the farm in her Subaru Forester early one morning and steps out in a Grace Seeds Ministry t-shirt. Linda is at Growing Solutions Farm for her weekly pick-up of produce for the food pantry run by nearby Marillac St. Vincent Family Services. She greets Tucker Kelly, the farm’s lead farmer, and receives a giant tub of washed kale.
Farmer Tucker hands over kale to Reverend Linda Wygant of Grace Seeds Ministry.
Linda has been making these pickups every week during the growing season for the last eight years. Through its Share the Harvest Project, Grace Seeds Ministry connects more than 40 Chicagoland growing partners with local food pantries. Growing Solutions Farm donates 20% of its annual harvest through the Share the Harvest Project. Food from the farm goes to Marillac’s senior pantry.
“There’s the Greater Chicago Food Depository with their trucks and they are able to deliver tons of food and produce from their partner supermarkets, but Grace Seeds Ministry really fills a niche in this space by providing produce that is so fresh it’s literally at our pantry partners within 48 hours or less of being harvested,” says Linda. “We rely on growing partners who are consistent, so our relationship with Growing Solutions Farm is golden.”
Growing Solutions Farm has produced about 8,000 pounds of fresh produce per season. Kelly doubled the capacity of the farm over the 2020 season when he reoriented and enlarged the growing beds. “It’s always a welcome sight to see Linda coming to the farm and the smile on her face when we hand over our donation for the week,” Kelly said.
Growing Solutions Farm is a 1.2-acre produce farm in the Illinois Medical District run by Urban Autism Solutions. Young adults with autism from Chicago West Side public high schools work at the farm to gain agricultural and transferrable job skills. In the two years after leaving high school, more than half of young adults with autism are without a job. The goal of the farm is to increase employment for this unique population. The farm sells produce through CSA (community supported agriculture) subscriptions, at farm stands and to restaurants and wholesalers.
Linda, who recently turned 62, started Grace Seeds Ministry’s Share the Harvest Project in 2006 and works with people of all faiths who are committed to responding to hunger in their local communities. Grace Seeds partners with faith-based groups as well as secular organizations to build gardens to provide food for their members or to be donated to pantries. Her program connects small produce farms throughout Chicago with nearby food pantries.
Linda has worked with Growing Solutions Farm and Marillac St. Vincent Family Services, which is less than a mile away from the farm, since 2013. She was invited to visit the farm in 2012 when it was little more than a plot of land and some raised beds at the far western edge of the Illinois Medical District. By 2013, the farm had started to produce, but the CSA and farm stands hadn’t been established yet. “The lead farmer at that time reached out to me to see if I could take the food they were growing, and that’s how our partnership started,” said Linda.
Linda sees her work in part as a way to fight food insecurity and help out neighbors in need.
“Grace Seeds Ministry serves as a connector, and our connection with Growing Solutions Farm has been absolutely amazing. We look forward to working with them for many more years to come,” said Linda.