Most Chicagoans spend their free time in typically urban pursuits: watching movies; riding around in cars or buses; eating meals in restaurants.
For Megan Owens, however, time away from raising her children is often spent down on her hands and knees, tending to her vegetable plants growing in the good brown earth of her neighborhood, Albany Park. Forty years old and a stay-at-home mom, Owens is part of a growing back-to-nature trend in cities. She's an urban gardener, at Global Garden, which is a community garden just east of Lawrence and Sacramento avenues, in the 2900 block of West Lawrence Avenue.
During a chat last Sunday afternoon, I asked Owens how her vegetables taste. "Amazing," she replied. "Cheaper. ... Fresher. Better quality. ... (And) you know where they came from. We started them from seeds in the kitchen."
Global Garden, which is on the north side of Lawrence Avenue, is an organic, pesticide-free garden operated by the non-profit organization Peterson Garden Project, which operates 8 community gardens in the city, from as far north as Howard St. and Ashland Ave., and as far south as the Field Museum. According to Peterson's website, over 3600 community gardeners are involved in the group's efforts.
Owens is a friendly, smiling woman originally from Canton, Ohio, who came to Chicago in 1997. Describing the layout of Global Gardens, she pointed west toward Sacramento Ave. "On that side," she said, "there's refugee farming. They grow for their families, and they also do farmers' markets every Saturday, from 9 to 1."
Asked to describe Global Garden, Owens said that everything grown there has "to be edible." She continued, "Everything's organic -- so there's no pesticides. You can do edible flowers, but it's not a flower garden. It's a vegetable garden."
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, the White House, and First Lady Michelle Obama are all big advocates of community gardening. Obama's "Let's Move" program, aimed at reducing childhood obesity and raising healthier kids, has championed the grow-it-yourself movement. In fact, the White House now has its own kitchen garden, tended to by Mrs. Obama, White House staff members, and visitors. It's the first such garden on the White House grounds since Eleanor Roosevelt's "victory garden" during World War II.
When we talked with Megan Owens, she was just leaving the garden carrying a clear bag filled with that day's harvest. What was inside the bag? we asked.
"Green beans," she said. "Purple beans." (She explained that these are "a little more bitter ... (but) I wanted to try something I couldn't buy.") Also in her bag: "Cucumber ... (and) heirloom tomatoes."
As a mother of young children trying to get her kids to eat healthy, she offered this benefit to being a Chicago community gardener: "My kids will only eat green beans from the garden. (They ask,) 'Are those from the garden? 'Cuz I'm not eating them if they're not from the garden.'"
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Filed under: City Life