Food access is not just about putting food on the table but creating a food system that supports community resiliency. When local infrastructure and economies breakdown, community is limited on choice resulting in having to travel to adjacent communities for the most basic of needs such as food. Nearly 83% of East St. Louis residents fall within the USDA definition of a food desert with heavy reliance on public transit.

While the JJK FAN is committed to equip youth with thriving careers and life skills to actively play a role in shaping the future of our food systems, we are equally committed to improving food access and economic vitality in the community.

Through the JJK FAN collaboration, Lansdowne UP builds and maintains our growing spaces. They currently operate over 30 raised beds along with an active greenhouse with multiple aquaponic and hydroponic demonstration systems. The JJK FAN is in the process of building a 11,000 sq/ft passive solar greenhouse. It will be the first of its kind in the United States, modeled after a design in Calgary Canada. This unique greenhouse has the capacity to produce over 30,000 pounds of food/year with minimal electricity costs. The Lansdowne UP workforce GrowUP team is instrumental in the construction of this greenhouse that will be used for research and food production aimed to combat food insecurity in East St. Louis and beyond.

All grow facilities are integrated into youth programming where students learn to grow and harvest fresh fruits and vegetables. Produce is also delivered weekly to local food pantries and is accessible to the surrounding community. Throughout the year 11-13 year old students work on their entrepreneurship skills as they implement a weekly Market at the JJK Center for families and staff. In working with University of Illinois Extension, students have gained skills in finance, salesmanship, leadership and communication. The youth market is a favorite at the center with proceeds going toward youth identified projects to improve nutrition and wellness at the Center.