Being a mentor in the I Grow Chicago Peace Garden is one of the most beautiful things I have ever been a part of in my life. Everyone I’ve had the honor of working with, we all walk proudly on the block, feeling the delights of the tidy flower beds, litterless ped-ways, vibrant herbs and foliage that we tend, each inch lining the property that surrounds the Peace House and even our surrounding neighbors. Vibrant vegetable rows, greenhouse, smiling faces all around.
One thing I’ve noticed is how people feel the moment they hit our block of Honore – there is a feeling a sense of wonder. “What are these people up to over here, growing food?” they ask. They’ve heard from friends about this place, they say. Seeing young people, old people, white people, black people all working together, they stick around for a tour and they come back time after time. We are growing HOPE here, I always say. We walk through the garden and I point out our hard work here, our vegetables our flowers.
Sometimes the plants produce wildly and with ease and other times we find that we must have grace with varieties and learn together how delicate some of our vegetables are as they adapt and grow, just like us….We use plants every day as a metaphor for how delicate we are as people, especially in the Englewood community. The circumstances or “the soil” are all things we work through together here in the garden. We embrace the imperfections and continue show up for hope and for the future. We found in the peace garden, we reap even more than we sow. So much love, energy, hard work and chance for change.
My focus in the garden is checking in on the community first. The gardeners here are a pack – a group that is bonded. We listen to each other and tell many stories. We feel a great deal of pride lifting each other up and cooperating in a crew taking turns watering our greenhouse, sowing seeds, and learning about how delicate they are. We successfully planted three crops this season! We learned about companion planting together to keep pests away, we’ve been working on improving our drainage systems and soil conditions, seeing many ways we are similar to our plants and how important these essentials are. We harvested hundreds and hundreds of vegetables and have been able to teach the children how to cook and help fill in with some items for our families’ Sunday dinners (collards being a favorite).
I’ve seen that having something steady, something positive in their lives has impacted our community greatly, allowing even some of our eldest to seek change. Hope is a word we say often. There is a great sense of pride over each inch of the garden and a certain aura of positivity each person leaves with after a day working here or even just talking here with us. We show up for and grow hope.