Community Spotlight

Growing Gardens and Youth Opportunity with Illinois Rep. Sonya Harper, the Grow Greater Englewood Coalition

April 2024

At 16 years old, Sonya Marie Harper dedicated herself to the community activism she would continue across careers in reporting, organic agriculture, nonprofit leadership, establishing her own PR firm, and beyond. The same dedication and connection to her community saw her run for and win her seat in the House of Representatives in 2015.

As Co-Founder of the Wood Street Meet & Greet Garden in 2012 and Founder of the Grow Greater Englewood Coalition, Representative Sonya Harper sees youth agriculture growing resilience and opportunity for youth and families.

Under her leadership, the Grow Greater Englewood Coalition transformed abandoned lots into a source of fresh affordable produce and a safe place for kids to play and belong in nature. The garden continues to offer key youth opportunities, including offering part time jobs where youth otherwise at high risk of violence grow food with and for their community.  

Representative Harper has continued to empower Illinois youth, BIPOC and woman-led agriculture, and fought for outdoor equity over nearly a decade in the legislature. Some of her most successful policies include:

  • Securing violence prevention funding for outdoor organizations
  • Establishing Urban Agricultural Zones (H.B. 3418, 2018) incentivizing cities to use vacant lots for locally-grown foods and bringing equal incentives to urban farmers.
  • A Farmer Equity Commission (H.B. 5201, 2023) requiring that women farmers and farmers of color be included when making policies and providing them with information on state and federal assistance.
  • Expanding Access to Future Farmers of America (FFA) Programs through recognizing FFA as an excused absence (H.B. 3814, 2023)  and covering FFA costs for all Illinois youth (H.B. 5400, 2022).