Elevate Difference

Thursday Night Supper Club and Urban Sustainable Living (3/26/2009)

Chicago, Illinois

If you are concerned with economy, food security, and health, a vegetable garden makes perfect sense. The first family's organic plot is underway, and instead of being daunted by some potential setbacks (the condition of urban soil, limited space, a non-existent budget), I have decided to be inspired by their example and undertake an attempt to grow my own produce. Therefore, I was delighted when the Backstory Cafe offered a presentation on urban gardening. This young Hyde Park establishment hosts not only regular jazz nights (Wednesdays), boardgame nights (Fridays), a morning playgroup (Mondays), and occasional movie screenings, but also holds a monthly Thursday night supper club. Topics covered have included social activism in the tradition of Jane Addams, collaboration between American, European and Palestinian woman artists, natural childbirth, and most recently, gardening.

Ben and Courtney of Backyard Bounty (their local and organic sustainable agriculture consulting service) and others served a delightful five course meal of locally produced foodstuffs for a splendidly crisis-conscious fifteen dollars, and offered much useful information between the courses, so much so that the diners petitioned for a global e-mail of relevant sites and information. Apparently a 20' x 20' garden can provide produce for a family of four, and a 10' x 10', ample for an individual. Container gardening on a small porch theoretically can yield all the herbs, teas, and select vegetables that an individual or couple requires. Options such as edible flowers or loofahs provide a change from the standard tomatoes and greens, and the truly dedicated may eventually consider an apiary or chicken coop. Check your local ordinances: in Chicago, you can raise chickens for eggs, not slaughter.

For those without local resources, the Internet provides a wealth of gardening knowledge. “Garden Girl” Patti Moreno demonstrates her extensive horticultural knowledge on an impressive compound of several raised beds built in a garage originally constructed in 1917. While some of her projects may be a bit esoteric and ambitious for the beginner (i.e., an aquaponic garden that pumps aquarium water to fertilize sprouting Swiss chard, or shaving a white German Angora rabbit the size of a Thanksgiving turkey in order to make homespun yarn), she does offer more accessible options and some practical suggestions. Plant seed potatoes in chunks that have two eyes apiece. Use bread bag twist ties to strap stems to lattices. The heirloom “Tiffin Mennonite” tomato weighs in at a pound apiece, and the hostess does have the charm to dedicate a chapter to her “almost record” tomato, conveniently measured at the corner store's deli counter. The massive glossy red fruit was inspiring. I'll break ground as soon as the threat of sleet has passed. Any day now.

Written by: Erika Mikkalo, May 4th 2009