Enlace Chicago is committed to working with community leaders in La Villita to transform vacant lots into safe green spaces that allow residents to use them for various family activities.
Each Monday and Wednesday, parents and children meet together at 26th and Trumbull, in the community garden called “Sembrando bajo el Sol” or “Sowing under the Sun.” They meet not only to work the land, taking care of the plants and vegetables that are growing, but also to socialize, share, and even dance to the rhythm of a fun zumba class. This community garden was born five years ago with the goal of providing an open space that would offer opportunities for production of healthy food, family recreation, and community building.
Maria Herrera, is the Public Health Coordinator at Enlace, and also coordinates the community gardens. She enjoys working in the gardens because as she gets to know the members of her community, she can connect them to resources to help them with problems they may have. Maria explains, “our goal is to ty to have green spaces in La Villita. No garbage, no contaminated areas...to try to make people comfortable. The people that come to the gardens are supportive of one another. We look for alternatives as a group to keep ourselves healthy.”
The gardens allow multiple activities simultaneously, giving people the opportunity to not only participate in weeding the garden and watering the plants, but also things like jewelry making, conversation, sharing recipes, zumba, and to learn about nature. The participants feel part of the gardens, part of their history and growth, and they develop leadership within the community.
Guillermina Trejo is one of the participants of “Sembrando Bajo el Sol.” She has been there for 5 years, since the garden began. “I knew about the garden because my daughter was at Madero School, which works with Enlace, and Maria went to the school to invite us. I liked it, and so I continued coming. I like everything, especially socializing and sharing with other people.”
Santi Samano is mother of three girls, and has come to the garden for four years. “Ms. Maria invited me. I love to participate, to be part of the community and build a healthy community. My three daughters like to participate too and work in the garden.”
This year, Enlace established a partnership with Lincoln Park Zoo to offer workshops and classes that teach children about gardening, nature, and insects. The workshops are held at “Sembrando bajo el Sol” on Mondays, and at “Jardin de Calabaza,” the garden on 25th and Keeler, on Tuesdays. The gardens also offer Zumba classes for adults and children, as a way of encouraging a healthy lifestyle in the fresh air.
In addition, the gardens offer an opportunity to complete community service hours. This summer, three students from Farragut Career Academy are completing their required 40 hours of service by participating in the garden. Maria Garcia is about to start her senior year of high school, and says she started coming to “Sembrando Bajo El Sol” this May. She and the others found the garden thanks to a summer program fair that was held at the school. “I already completed my 40 hours,” she says, “but I keep coming because I like to participate. Its relaxing for me here, cleaning and picking out weeds.”
Katia Garcia and Jacqui Santiago will start their Junior year of High School this fall, and come to the garden twice a week for two hours. Katia says she prefers being at the garden than just staying at home, and Jacqui says she likes the activities. “We just did an automatic irrigation project with the Lincoln Park Zoo program,” she says. The girls say they like the chance to learn about plants, vegetarian cooking, arts and crafts, as well as the Zumba class.
The younger children also enjoy the space in the company of their mothers. 9 year old Vididiana says she likes the activities, and to learn about the plants. 8 year old Erica says she likes to water the garden and to color pictures. Anahi, an 8 year old, says she likes to come because, “we can dance with the Zumba,” and Ariseth, a 7 year old, adds, “we can explore the whole garden and find insects, and we also plant flowers.”
Enlace Chicago supports three community gardens as part of its focus on health in La Villita:
“Sembrando Bajo el Sol”- 26th and Trumbull
“Jardin de Calabaza”- 25th and Keeler
“Cosecha Verde”- 28th and Harding
Among the goals of the gardens is a reduction in childhood obesity, according to Maria Herrera, as well as, “to help prevent chronic degenerative illnesses that affect our community, such as diabetes.”
Due to Chicago’s climate, and the cold weather during fall and winter, work in the gardens begins in April, and culminates in October with the “Harvest Festival.” In the months off, people continue their connections as they plan for the new season. In December, all of the participants receive a certificate and public recognition for their hours of dedication and service to the community at the “Gardener’s Festival,” a collective celebration that includes healthy food, and time to share.
To learn more about participants, click here