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West Bloomington garden rebrands as an urban farm as it seeks to feed more in need

Student apprentices tend to the Sunnyside Urban Farm in west Bloomington.
Sunnyside Urban Farm
Student apprentices tend to the Sunnyside Urban Farm in west Bloomington.

Managers of a Bloomington community garden are rebranding the site as an urban farm, a slight but important difference. That’s according to Caleb Phillips, director of the newly renamed Sunnyside Urban Farm on the west side of Bloomington.

Sunnyside Community Garden on West Illinois Street opened in 2016 in an effort to provide an outdoor space for people to gather, and to produce food for what Phillips said is McLean County’s unhealthiest neighborhood.

Now, the project is looking to expand several parts of their operation to provide those same benefits to more residents of Bloomington-Normal.

The distinction between the two, according to Phillips, is that an urban farm produces and sells more produce. Sunnyside was already producing food for several Bloomington-Normal businesses and charities and will continue to do so with even more output. The farm has more than 45 planting beds and 150 fruit trees, as well as other fruits and vegetables throughout their property.

The main program at Sunnyside for Phillips is a paid apprenticeship for teens in the area around the garden. Beginning this summer, Sunnyside will offer 10 paid, 150-hour apprenticeships that not only teach the technical skills of the agriculture trade, but skills related to general maintenance, academic opportunities, and career searching.

Phillips said the program focuses on skills that “aren’t always exposed to students who fall behind in school.”

The opportunity is only available for teenagers within a two-mile radius of the property in an effort to “build community” and create a sustainable, workable farm with an entire community of individuals with the knowledge and skills to maintain a high amount of healthy, available food in the well documented “food desert” that exists in West Bloomington, Phillips said.

Apprenticeships are offered for 10 students through the summer months, but the farm is also looking for volunteers to assist throughout the growing season.

Erik Dedo is a reporting and audio production intern at WGLT. He joined the station in 2022.