In 2012, the Liberty Prairie Foundation launched the Waukegan Local Food Project with support from the Lake County Community Foundation to help the community strengthen its local food system. The project leveraged LPF’s local food system development, farming, and education expertise to provide capacity building and technical assistance to Waukegan community leaders interested in pursuing various food projects. Interviews, site visits and stakeholder events engaged a diverse set of organizations, individuals and leaders in the community. The project wrapped up in 2014, however the Foundation remains engaged in the community through unique partnerships and fresh food distribution programs.
The Foundation’s community food needs assessment demonstrated that community gardens are a major initiative in Waukegan. Many groups are pursuing different gardening project models and need community engagement strategies and best practices. These projects have been an important method to get Waukegan residents participating in, and excited about their local food system.
The Foundation’s assessment also indicated that health and wellness initiatives targeting food access, food justice, nutrition, education, healthy cooking and more are needed in the community. Several Waukegan organizations are taking a holistic approach and are working on these initiatives in conjunction with their local food work.
The Liberty Prairie Foundation created and distributed the Waukegan Local Food Resource Guide as a result of this project to provide community leaders and residents with information about each local food project underway in the community.
The Liberty Prairie Foundation hosted the Waukegan Local Food Stakeholder Event in 2013, where leaders from nonprofit organizations and social service agencies gathered to discuss local food projects underway in the community. This was an excellent opportunity for Waukegan leaders to build on the momentum and excitement around local food that is present in the community.
This first stakeholder event was designed to promote information sharing and collaboration across multiple sectors of the community. Approximately 25 individuals representing several faith-based, nonprofit, county, social service and educational institutions attended the event. Participants shared information about their project, which created a more comprehensive understanding amongst the group about the numerous Waukegan-based local food efforts. Projects discussed included community gardens, health and wellness initiatives, a free farmer’s market, youth development programs and more.
The stakeholder group also participated in a round table discussion about the challenges and opportunities of the community’s local food system. Volunteer management, a collaborative approach to grant-seeking efforts, creating micro-businesses and the need for nutrition and wellness education were key points in the discussion.
Rory Klick, College of Lake County horticulture department chair, and Kim Isaacson, University of Illinois Extension horticulture program coordinator, led a discussion about community gardening best practices. The presentation included valuable information about the community development components of the widely used garden model.
The Foundation also partnered with the College of Lake County to co-host a second stakeholder event – a community gardening workshop. This two-day workshop was lead by Rory Klick, CLC Horticulture Department Chair, and featured curriculum from the American Community Garden Association. Participants learned how to create a successful, sustainable garden through organizational development. Additional topics included asset-based community development, leadership skills, meeting facilitation, board development, fundraising and more.
After the first stakeholder event, the Liberty Prairie Foundation issued a Request for Proposals and selected several organizations to work more closely with in 2013 to help build capacity for their local food projects.
The Liberty Prairie Foundation provided technical assistance to three Waukegan organizations through the end of 2013:
Site visits were conducted with Beacon Place and Roberti Community House to provide guidance and share best practices for their agriculture-based youth development programs. Each organization also received documents with the Liberty Prairie Foundation’s observations and recommendations for their specific community food project.
In 2014 the Prairie Farm Corps expanded our reach into under-served communities with a pilot project to also provide fresh vegetables to low-income Waukegan residents through a partnership with Beacon Place. Click here for more information about Prairie Farm Corps vegetable distribution site in Waukegan through the summer Lunch Bunch program at Beacon Place.