In a community nestled at the nexus of the Englewood and Washington Park neighborhoods on Chicago’s South side, Sweet Water Foundation has been cultivating a hyperlocal, dynamic site that contains the essential elements of life – art, education, outreach, agriculture, carpentry, housing, and wellness. This place, known as The Commonwealth, spans four contiguous city blocks and includes more than three acres of urban farm land, open community gardens, a carpentry workshop, two formerly foreclosed homes transformed into live-work-learn spaces, and a hand-raised, timber frame barn that serves a visual and performing arts, reflection, and community gathering space. We design and build furniture, craft home goods, and construct community structures from reclaimed wood otherwise destined for landfills. We reclaim vacant spaces, grow healthy food, and engage an intergenerational audience in programming that reconnects us to one another and our shared environment – from beekeeping-to-yogurt making-to-canning-to-local historic preservation. At The Commonwealth, we have reconstructed a community left ‘blighted’ by decades of disinvestment and neglect. Our work has filled the void of food deserts, closed schools, and economic marginalization through an approach that is eco-logical, accessible, and inclusive. Our vision is simple – Every community contains the seeds of its own regeneration, able to cultivate stable, healthy, and happy families – and our work demonstrates how cities might begin to reconstruct urban life in a manner that sustains life.
Today, in the midst of a global pandemic, as the rest of the world turns indoors, Sweet Water Foundation’s work continues. As we look to the future, beyond COVID-19, and begin to reconstruct our global and local economies, we carry with us a fresh perspective and profound understanding of that which is essential. Our education and outreach programming, events, artists talks, and community workshops are on hold, but we continue to GROW the neighborhood with greater resolve each day. Although the core of our work expands well beyond urban agriculture, the essentiality and sacredness of growing food locally is more important than ever before.
The future is ours to create. Let us establish a new way of living in which every community contains the seeds of its own regeneration. There GROWS the neighborhood.