Mayor Lori Lightfoot joined residents and community leaders in Englewood on Tuesday for the opening of the new Go Green Community Fresh Market.
“A community needs some basic things. Access to healthy food, of course, is at the top of the list – and we’ve got to recommit ourselves not only here, but in every food desert across our city,” Lightfoot said.
The market is designed to be as convenient as a neighborhood corner store but with fresh produce, a variety of healthy options, and meals cooked on site. And it’s just one part of an effort to bring new life to Englewood.
A 2019 NYU analysis found the average Englewood resident lives to 60, while the average Streeterville resident lives to 90 – a 30-year gap between two communities just nine miles apart.
“That happens to be the largest life expectancy gap in the country,” said Sana Syed of the Inner-City Muslim Action Network, known as IMAN. “Go Green on Racine is an effort (that) aims to bridge that gap.”
It’s a collective effort, including IMAN, R.A.G.E. Englewood, E.G. Woode, and Teamwork Englewood. Its first project is the Go Green Community Fresh Market at 63rd and Racine.
“The goals of this market are really to make healthy foods accessible and affordable to the community,” Syed said. “We want to do it in a way that doesn’t make it like a specialty food store. We want to do this in a way that it still feels like a neighborhood grocery store.”
It’s the kind of place that cook and storekeeper Jahari Fultz says many residents don’t have easy access to, like his aunt, who lives just down the street.
“She has to travel [for groceries]. She’s older and she doesn’t really have a person like me who’s always available to help her, so it’s good that she can just come here,” Fultz said.
The market’s also set to feature community events and classes, and fresh food made on site.
“My favorite right now is the chicken wrap – the chicken taco wrap, to be exact. It’s delicious,” Fultz said. “Besides that, we do have a wide range of options available that I think the community will love.”
But it's not just about creating a place to buy fresh produce and other healthy groceries. Go Green on Racine says it’s taking a holistic approach to tackling historic disinvestment.
Just south of the market on Racine sits the former Granville T. Woods Academy, one of the dozens of CPS schools shuttered in a wave of closures in 2013. Go Green on Racine is working to turn it into The Regenerator, which will include 42 units for people returning from incarceration.
“We know that returning citizens, many of whom come home to Englewood every year – more than a thousand – struggle with … successfully reentering society,” Syed said.
That’s why The Regenerator’s set to feature health, wellness, and job support.
Leaders are also advocating for reopening the Racine Green Line stop. It closed in 1994, creating a mile-long gap between the Halsted and Ashland stations.
“Englewood residents are able to access 280,000 jobs within a 30-minutes travel radius, compared to one million jobs for north side residents,” Syed said.
The CTA told WTTW News it’s aware of the advocacy efforts to reopen the Racine stop, but that the station would need an estimated $100 million dollars or more of work before it can go back into service, with no funding currently available. The agency also says a 2017 ridership analysis found the station would see fewer average weekday rides than when it was closed in the 1990s.
Go Green on Racine is an effort with a lot of angles, but the people behind it say a holistic approach is the only option.
“You provide housing, you provide a place to sleep, you provide health care, you provide a place to eat, you provide great dining options – it all circulates within the economy of the community, which is of benefit for everyone,” said Deon Lucas of E.G. Woode.
And while they’re celebrating the grand opening of the Go Green market, leaders say they know just how much more is left to do, since the project is driven by people rooted in the community.
“We take a different perspective than many other folks who come through for one-off projects,” Lucas said. “There’s a longer-term endeavor at stake.”
Go Green on Racine received a low-income housing tax credit from the city late last year. They hope to break ground on the Regenerator in 2023.