Community Member Spotlight: Alex of Urban Canopy

Profile of Alex of Urban Canopy | Zero Waste Chicago

This month we caught up with Alex Poltorak, the founder and CEO of the Urban Canopy. We also heard him speak recently at the Chicago Community Climate Forum, which we recapped here!

Much of the inspiration behind the Urban Canopy's inception came from Alex's experience as an Education Pioneer Fellow with Chicago Public Schools. He studied the effects of nutrition on young kids during the school day and, realizing that many of the students were getting their only food of the day at school, wanted to combat food quality and insecurity issues through urban agriculture and healthy food systems. After piloting a rooftop farm at The Plant, he opened an indoor and outdoor farm and the Urban Canopy was born.

Today the Urban Canopy has five branches that together support a local and circular food system:

Farms - the indoor farm grows mostly wheatgrass for the UC's juice bar clients and the outdoor farms grow over 50 varieties of produce for their LUCSA program and farmers markets.

LUCSA (Local Unified Community Supported Agriculture) - members of LUCSA receive weekly or bi-weekly shares of fresh produce, mushrooms and eggs from their farm as well as other local farms, and other locally made provisions like bread, coffee, and kombucha. You can sign up for a share here.

Farmers Markets - you can find the Urban Canopy at independent farmers markets like 61st Street Farmers Market, Plant Chicago, Beverly, and the Glenwood Sunday Market, as well as at seven markets they run for the City of Chicago in the Austin, Englewood and Bronzeville communities. They hire local chefs from the neighborhood to perform cooking demos so market goers can learn how to cook with the produce available at the market and try the food before buying. LINK is also accepted at all of their markets and value is doubled up to $25 for free with matching grants. We've listed all Chicago winter farmers markets here.

Distribution - finding and sourcing organic options for non locally grown produce (i.e. oranges, bananas, coconuts) for the local businesses they service.

Compost Club - a residential and commercial compost pick up service. If you're interested in giving this a try, you can sign up here! (If you do, be sure to select Zero Waste Chicago in the "How did you hear about us?" field to help us track our impact). If the Urban Canopy doesn't service your area, we've listed other pick-up services on this page.

Alex says the Urban Canopy has also been embarking on food rescue projects, something they hope to grow in the future. The day we chatted, his team was freezing and packing 350 pounds of organic blueberries they bought from a distributor who couldn't sell them because of only a couple bad berries or cosmetic imperfections. Now the UC can offer an organic option to a local business for the price of conventional blueberries.

When we asked him if he's optimistic about the direction Chicago is heading with regards to sustainability, local action and healthy communities, he said definitely. "I focus on all of the opportunities that exist instead of the negative. There are a lot of amazing people here with the desire to change things and there's a lot momentum right now that's very inspiring". We couldn't agree more! Thanks, Alex!

Curious about other folks in the Chicago area doing good work? You can find past Community Member Spotlights here.

Image courtesy of Matthew Bowie