Sophie Bolich

Urban Garden Provides Fresh Produce in Riverwest

Brothers Joel and Jamie Lichosik operate Crops on Top, a for-profit urban garden.

By - Jul 8th, 2022 06:30 pm
Crops on Top, 3700 N. Fratney St. Photo by Sophie Bolich.

Crops on Top, 3700 N. Fratney St. Photo by Sophie Bolich.

Joel and Jamie Lichosik, like many others, reconsidered their career paths during the pandemic. Both veterans of the restaurant industry, the brothers decided to step back from making food. Now, they grow it.

The Lichosiks decided to create Crops on Top, a for-profit urban vegetable garden, in February 2021. In the following weeks, they were tasked with transforming an industrial lot, overgrown with weeds and covered in a layer of cement, into a suitable space for planting. They pulled it off, but Joel Lichosik wasn’t eager to repeat the scramble for a second year.

“This year was so much easier,” he said. “I was able to see all the mistakes we made.”

With the garden space already prepped, the brothers had time to assemble shelves with grow lights, conduct research and plan strategies for a better harvest. Ultimately, they built it on the parking lot of the former C&D Technologies factory at 3700 N. Fratney St. It’s comprised of raised beds and repurposed containers arranged on a bed of wood chips.

The Lichosiks’ goal is to fulfill the need for high quality, fresh produce in the neighborhood.

“One of our concerns is the food instability, especially in the Riverwest area. It’s more of a food desert,” he said. “So just the response we’ve been getting from the people that walk by and drive by and are noticing us there. [They’re] happy we’re doing something and the support is starting to come in.”

Throughout the summer, youth from Teens Grow Greens, a nonprofit focused on educating youth about cooking, gardening and healthy habits, visit the garden to help harvest and learn about the business.

The Lichosiks are also in talks with restaurants like Wonderland, a diner in Riverwest, looking to source hyperlocal produce.

The growing season starts in March, when Joel Lichosik sows the first batch of seeds under grow lights in his basement. He then transfers them to the outdoor garden when the weather warms.

He said he hopes to eventually move that operation into a neighboring warehouse. West River Collective owns the warehouse and the 28,749 square-foot lot where the garden is.

Also in the works: a hydroponic farm. Seeking to branch out from lettuce, the typical hydroponic crop, Joel Lichosik is experimenting with tomatoes, cucumber and peppers for the water-based horticulture system.

The brothers sell their produce at the garden site Thursdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. They also pop up monthly at the Riverwest farmers market, splitting a booth with Amorphic Beer.

“We’re trying to be open here at the farm for people to come by,” Joel Lichosik said, “You know, treat it like a grocery store.”

Current offerings include radishes, curly kale, lacinato kale, chard, collard greens, three types of beets, sugar snap peas, english peas, carrots and arugula. Zucchini and peppers will be ready in a few weeks.

Crops on Top is one of several urban garden concepts in the Riverwest neighborhood. The Riverwest Community School Garden, located on Bremen St. and Clarke St., invites residents of the neighborhood to collaborate in planting and maintaining vegetable and flower plots. The space includes a community shelf for non-perishable goods.

Kilbourn Garden, located off of North Ave. between Kilbourn Reservoir Park and Kadish Park, offers small, rentable garden plots. There are more than 80 community gardens throughout the city.

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