By Lindsey Sharp
Pembroke Township in Illinois sits approximately 75 miles south of Chicago’s three million residents, skyscrapers, and bustling businesses. In stark contrast to its big-city neighbor, Pembroke Township boasts a population of less than 3,000, and almost half of its working-age adults are out of work. In a town where even the Nestle Corporation couldn’t sustain a factory, two out of the township’s three elementary schools have been closed, and the entire police force was let go, it should be no surprise to find rampant abuses and environmental injustices in the place that progress — or even mere adequacy — seems to have forgotten.
Despite a legacy of chemical contamination from the Cross Brothers Pail Recycling Superfund site, recent efforts at environmental stewardship and organic farming partnerships are moving the community in a positive direction. As part of the growing movement in organic and all-natural foods, Iyabo Farms has risen as a certified organic farm that provides foods to farmers markets, restaurants, and health food stores. Pembroke Township residents have also taken an interest in sustainable endeavors with the Black Oaks Center for Sustainable Renewable Living, which educates citizens on how to lessen dependence on fossil fuels and high energy consumption.
Partnerships with universities and museums have led to the development of an archaeological field school, the Pembroke Savanna Sands Ecosystem Project, located on 62 acres of the black-oak savannas, as well as designating “hundreds of acres of oak savannas, pin-oak flatwoods, sand forests, and sand prairies as Illinois Nature Preserves and Illinois Land and Water Reserves” (Pembroke Township: The Lost Corner of the Kankakee Sands).
For Pembroke Township, these partnerships with the environment will never quite cancel out such a major abuse as the Cross Brothers Pail Recycling site, but can go a long way towards healing the relationship between citizens and land. With continued education and engagement efforts with the community, Pembroke Township is in the unique position of being a place where citizens can develop healthy relationships with the relatively untouched Earth around them.
Read the entire text of Lindsey Sharp’s article, “Pre-programmed for Poverty: An Exploration of Environmental Contamination and Injustice in Pembroke, Illinois” (pdf).