Evanston Grows farmstand at Fleetwood-Jourdain Center.

The line formed quckly around the tent in front of the Fleetwood-Jourdain Center, with volunteers behind a table passing out free bags of lettuce, cabbage, green beans, and other fresh produce.

“When we tell them it’s free,” said volunteer Denise Johnson, “at first they don’t believe it.”

Johnson is one of about 200 volunteers for an organization called Evanston Grows, a collaborative effort by several groups to fight food insecurity in what is generally perceived as a pretty affluent place.

But that affluence is not spread evenly across the city.

Jean Fies, the organization’s board president, explained that Evanston Grows grows its produce in “places where people are hungry,” in 14 gardens around town.

The vegetables are then distributed for free in several lower income neighborhoods, at community centers such as Fleetwood-Jourdain, at subsidized housing complexes and also by placing food in “community fridges,” where people can stop by and take supplies.

Jean Fies, at some of Evanston Grows’ vegetable beds.

And, Fies added, “oh my gosh, we can do more” to fight food insecurity.

Now, they have additional money to do that.

Evanston Grows, which began in 2021, has just been awarded a $30,000 grant by the Garden Club of America, the first place prize in a nationwide competition.

While garden clubs may have the image of people pruning back their flowers and beautifying their yards, Fies said the Garden Club of Evanston, which nominated Evanston Grows for the grant, “was interested in more community focus instead of just pretty gardens.”

Money from the grant will let Evanston Grows expand its site at the Vineyard Church on Howard Street, into “at least a one-acre farm,” Fies said.

Funding will also help create more pollinator gardens, and also go for educational programs about food and nutrition.

The local Rotary Nouveau Club and the Whole Foods Market are also significant contributors to Evanston Grows, with Whole Foods providing produce distributed during the winter, when the growing season in Evanston is on frozen hold. Rotary volunteers pick up the goods. Other local businesses and charities also help with funding.

Last year, Fies said, Evanston Grows gave away 5,000 pounds of free produce, and they hope to do at least that much this year.

About 400 to 500 households are helped each week at Grows’ various locations around town.

“Health equity” is the oganization’s mission, Fies explained.

“Everything is grown organically, and we always give it away for free.”

And as for those who actually give out the produce, volunteer Denise Johnson, who is at Fleetwood-Jourdain weekly passing out the bags, said, “I’m just doing it because I like to help the people in the neighborhood.”

Evanston Grows is a non-profit organization. For more information on volunteering or contributing, go to evanstongrows.org.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Join the Conversation


  1. Jean Fies is one of the greatest assets to the Evanston community. Her desire to always give back, jump in and work hard and care for others is a beautiful thing to witness. Evanston Grows is a fantastic organization helping Evanston in a much needed way.

    1. Thank you, Ms. Marks, I was just going to comment on this great program… and so nice to read some “good news” for once…!!!

      Gregory Morrow – 4th Ward resident

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