Slow Food, preSERVE and a Nice Boost from Nature Hills Nursery

April 26, 2011 at 5:52 pm

Some of you Beetniks may know that I recently joined the Board of Slow Food Chicago.  I’ve always been impressed with their mission, which combines a good meal with a good cause.  I’ve decided to be more active in that mission.  As I’ve been dipping my toes into SFC business, I’ve been keenly aware of their activities with a community garden in Chicago’s Lawndale neighborhood.  The garden, done in conjunction with the North Lawndale Greening Committee, the Chicago Honey Co-op, and NeighborSpace, is known as preSERVE.  In fact, I feel a bit sheepish that I have not been more on top of preSERVE’s activities.  Still, a recent bout of good fortune for them, makes me want to catch up in telling you about it.

This week, preSERVE received a big boost towards a more varied and sustainable garden through a generous donation by Nature Hills Nursery.  As First Prize Winner of a Green America Award, preSERVE will receive $1,500 worth of fruit trees and brambles, providing delicious fresh food for the neighborhood, signifying the permanence of the garden, and making it more inviting to the community. 

Let me know give you a bit of background on preSERVE.  Slow Food Chicago believes community gardens play a fundamental role in a vibrant local food system, and they have seen gardens thriving even in the most arid of Chicago’s “food deserts,” including North Lawndale.  Slow Food Chicago teamed with The North Lawndale Greening Committee and The Chicago Honey Co-op who had been active in Lawndale.  North Lawndale Greening Committe ran seventeen gardens, including the African Heritage Garden; while the other partner, the Chicago Honey Co-op keeps bees and an urban garden while providing job training skills to people returning from prison and others who may have difficulty gaining employment.  The Honey Co-op also provides gardening opportunities for volunteers from all over the city.  

Amongst their gardens, they found an empty corner lot, hosting nothing more nutritious than the crumbs in an empty chip bag.  The North Lawndale Greening Committee and NeighborSpace, a nonprofit that acquires and supports the community based management of small parks and gardens in Chicago, worked for years to purchase the vacant lot, which measures over 4,000 square feet and gets full southwestern exposure.  Slow Food Chicago, the Greening Committee, Honey Co-op, and NeighborSpace hatched a plan for this lot that would help address an unmet need: they would grow food: real food that was either unavailable or unrecognizable at the corner markets and fast food chains nearby, on a scale that was not possible in the existing Greening Committee edible gardens.  This would support the larger vision of a sustainable business model that would yield a return for the North Lawndale neighborhood through the eventual creation and sale of traditional value-added products– or “preserves,” like the pickled vegetables “chow-chow.” 

 With a lot of encouragement and support, these partner organizations and a host of volunteers set about spreading compost and creating wood-chip pathways between newly laid rows.  They planted rows of black eyed peas, crowder peas and sweet potatoes.  When they started getting reports from neighbors of stolen peas, the preSERVE team knew that their garden was a success.

preSERVE was founded and is led by a volunteer committee including Jennifer Sandy, Slow Food Chicago Board Member; Bob Pallotta, Slow Food Chicago former Board Member; Michael Thompson, Chicago Honey Co-Op; Dr. Shemuel Israel, North Lawndale Greening Committee; Damien Casten, Candid Wines, and Ben Helphand, NeighborSpace.  The project has over 100 supporters and volunteers who have assisted with everything from building, planting and harvesting the garden, to volunteering at Slow Food Chicago’s Summer Solstice and TomatoFest Fundraisers.   They want you to know more of what they are doing and they are happy for you to lend a hand.