LOCKPORT, Ill. - There is something unique going on in the heart of downtown Lockport.
We are talking about a community partnership that provides a "win-win" for more people than you think.
People come to downtown Lockport for a lot of reasons. They may be looking to grab a drink, a meal or a movie.
Now, there is another reason.
"Inside this 320-square-foot unit, we grow leafy green vegetables. Primarily lettuces but also some kales, mesclun, chard and some herbs," said Rob Wibbeler.
Wibbeler and his assistant Brendan Lempicki run Second City Greens. It is a small urban freight farm tucked away just off one of Lockport’s busiest streets.
"It is a hydroponic growing operation. We call it clean growing. No herbicides, no pesticides are used," Wibbeler said.
Wibbeler and his business partner purchased their freight farm right when COVID hit. They were not able to plant their first crop until late December of last year.
They enlisted some special hands to help them get started.
"Brendan is a blessing to us," Wibbeler said.
Brendan is a part of Lockport Township High School’s Career and Community Connections program.
"We’re a vocational program that works with graduates from LTHS between the ages of 18 and 21," said LTHS Career and Community Connections Coordinator Jack Ford. "Special needs individuals who need help on vocational work or independent skills."
Second City Greens turned out to be an even bigger blessing for students like Brendan because there were very few places they could get job training during the pandemic.
But Brendan and the environment are not the only ones this freight farm is helping out.
Over at Mama Onesta's Italian Restaurant, they are using some of the lettuce and several herbs grown at Second City Greens to make salads and garnish some of their house specialties.
So far, these ingredients have been a bit hit with diners.
"You’d be amazed at the fact that you say it’s made or grown right across the street that really makes people want to try it out," said Kyle Turucz, head chef at Mama Onesta’s Italian Restaurant.
The culinary team over at the Public Landing Restaurant also agrees.
"It’s going well. People really like those types of options," said Anita Donnelly, manager of Public Landing Restaurant.
While Second City Greens’ focus is to show urban farming is sustainable, other business owners say they are doing much more than that.
"Being in Lockport, there is a great sense of community between us, the mayor and other businesses. So it’s just a pretty good fit," Donnelly said.
The owners of Second City Greens are not the only ones hoping their business takes off. So does Lockport Mayor Steve Streit. He hopes to have other businesses like this set up shop next to Second City Greens in the near future to form a maker's park.
Plans are in the works to add a coffee bean roaster and a jewelry maker.