Farmers Market Encourages Healthy Eating in BOTY

Godwin Akpan | Back of the Yards

Godwin Akpan stands in front of the Farmers Market signage and lot. (The Gate/Vanessa Burciaga)

On 51st and Wood are a corner/liquor store, several brick apartment buildings, and a busy intersection. There are no grocery stores located on the block, with only several in the neighborhood. But fast food restaurants and corner stores are still more accessible than produce stores. Yet, at this intersection is a local community garden that grows cucumbers, cantaloupe, sage, mint leaves and an African eggplant, one of the few gardens in Chicago to grow the crop.

The United Human Services Center (UHSC) is a non-profit that operates in the Back of the Yards community, founded by Godwin Akpan. Akpan formerly taught farming in his home country of Nigeria for 10 years. Now he is in Back of the Yards, and he is passionate about farming and agriculture, saying, “I have a green thumb… I can’t do anything without putting my hand on the ground and [pulling] something back out.”  

Youth working the table at the Farmers Market. (The Gate/Vanessa Burciaga)

Youth working the table at the Farmers Market. (The Gate/Vanessa Burciaga)

Local youth volunteers at the garden and Akpan expressed many of the children did not know that vegetables were grown from the soil, adding, “most of the children think food is from Dominick’s, Jewels or Food for Less. They think it’s grown there. It is not grown there. It is grown in the garden or the farm.”  

 Akpan teaches children how to grow their own food and encourages them to eat healthier and organically. For 17-year-old Marcelo Herrera, a Back of the Yards native, the opportunity to work in the gardens has been eye-opening. “It’s not easy, it’s really hard, they have to work hard. There’s days where you have to work in the sun and you have to take care of the plants and make sure that they’re living and looking healthy. It’s very difficult,” said Herrera. 

The organization is run entirely by volunteer work. However, the organization faces trouble finding the volunteer work necessary to operate all the programs run by UHSC. Tending to a garden is hard work and many volunteers are reluctant to work during the hot summer days. 

Retention troubles aside, the community garden grows produce for a local farmer’s market held every Wednesday from 3 to 7 pm. Farmer Markets are notoriously more expensive than grocery store produce and typically held in more well-to-do neighborhoods. UHSC incentivizes locals to purchase from their farmers market by accepting the Link card and offering deals. Akpan aims to create a “food positive” community and wants to encourage families in the community to eat healthier.  

 If you are interested in volunteering with UHSC contact Godwin Akpan at  773-253-5063 or visit