Uncommon Ground: Growing Communities that Grow Food
There is a movement happening all over America. More urban agriculture is happening in cities like Chicago and beyond. While more restaurants are growing their own food, no one does it at the level of Uncommon Ground.
Sitting down with owner Helen Cameron was truly an eye-opening experience. It’s extremely humbling to meet a team of people that truly cares about the health and well-being of their community.
They have a community connection unlike any I’ve seen before. Here is my conversation with Helen:
Uncommon Ground is not your typical restaurant, you’re much more than that.
We are like a green community cultural center slash restaurant with a brewery.
It’s a labor of love. It’s our mission and vision to nourish our community and nurture nature. Both of our restaurants were top ranked green restaurants in the country. We have solar thermal panels that heat our water, we use a lot of reclaim wood and material, and no VOC paints.
Your Devon location has a pretty special accolade.
Yes, it’s the 1st certified organic rooftop farm in the country. Once we found the Devon location, we realized we had an enormous roof space so we put a farm on the roof. It may be tiny compared to other certified farms, but it is quite mighty.
We’ve devised a system that produces quite a lot of food for the amount of space. It is intensive farming but we do it quite successfully. We are able to get around 2 pounds per square foot, whereas conventional farming are generally happy with 1 pound.
We also use it as an education tool for the community.
I have 2 farm directors that work with a team of interns. The interns get a full on curriculum and education on an urban agriculture, sustainable food systems, and organic. As a final project, they have to give us a farm plan of their own.
Many of them stay involved in sustainable food systems in some form or fashion. We are training that generation of people to go and help support urban agriculture.
That’s amazing, what’s the main attraction here at your Clark location?
We added the first certified organic brewery in the state of Illinois. We are one of only about a dozen brewers that only brew organic beer in the entire country. It’s also a localvore. We only buying local grain and local hops.
This location has a sidewalk farm that is also certified organic. It’s only 70 square feet, we are using earth boxes which are incredibly productive sub-irrigated planting systems. I can get somewhere between 3-4 lbs per square foot production.
The cool things about both locations we are sharing it with a lot of urban dwellers. When we get to peak season you get to see how beautiful it is to be surrounded by growing food. You’re eating outside privately in an enclave of food.
Love the fact that you folks are an organic beer brewery
People are awakening to what’s happening in the food world. People are beginning to change their dining habits, but do you think about what’s in the beer you’re drinking?
You don’t realize how many chemicals that get sprayed onto ingredients of our food and drink. I don’t any of that in my food stream and certainly shouldn’t be in anything I’m consuming as a beverage either. Our beer is certified organic and by nature non-GMO.
We started our brewery in 2014. When it came to the point of hiring a brewer. My concern was to find someone who’s personal mission matched our own. When we met with Martin, our brewmaster, we immediate had a sense of comradery and a similar attitude toward the quality of what we eat and drink.
What’s the Uncommon Ground approach toward meats?
Care has been taken in choosing the ingredients we buy. For instance, I only buy grass fed beef. Cows are really meant to eat anything but grass, that’s their nature. Eating corn makes cows sick, its hard for them to digest it.
I’m an omnivore. I might eat red meat once every couple weeks, but I try to eat lower on the food chain. I’m not saying stop eating meat but, we have to eat better meat and less of it. I really dislike the idea of hormones and antibiotics in any of my food, so I go out of my way to make sure that none of those items are present.
I support as many local farmers as I can. I write my menu seasonally, so I use foods that are grown around here and have access to year round.
What exciting ingredients do you see sprouting in the upcoming seasons?
We just had our farm planning meeting. We always leave room for experimentation, different varieties we having tried yet. In 2016 one of the big hits was wasabi arugula. A couple years ago is was a beautiful indigo series of tomatoes.
This year we are looking to try different varieties of sweet potatoes. we might we test some Carolina rice. We will see what happens!
To have a place in the city where you can see where your food comes from and how its grown is much needed. Uncommon Ground, we applaud you.
Your approach to food is helping your community live a life well eaten!
Visit them online and at a location today:
Home of Greenstar Brewing organic brewery
- 3800 North Clark Street, Chicago, IL 60613 – 773-929-3680
Home of the 1st Certified Organic Roof Top Farm in the US
- 1401 West Devon Avenue, Chicago, IL 60660 – 773-465-9801