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Hands ready for the soil

Updated: Mar 26, 2021

Living in the city for most people means to be surrounded by cement and to lack green space and places of recreation. In Chicago, this is a hard fact of neighborhoods on the south and west sides.

Almost 10 years ago, Enlace opened its first community garden on 26th and Trumbull with the idea of creating spaces within La Villita that would not only provide an opportunity to interact with nature, but would also promote creativity and family unity.

Ever since then, Enlace has expanded this alternative to the western section of the community with the garden, “La Calabaza,” located on 25th Street and Keeler.

For Maria Eugenia Rodriguez, or Maru, as she is called by family and friends, the garden at Trumbull is a space of peace and tranquility. “To plant this corn patch, and the beans, it transports me back to my childhood because my father was a campesino, a farmer. My father led with a horse, and I walked behind sowing seeds. The seeds were thrown down, and I would cover them, tapping them over with my bare feet. This reminds me of my childhood and my roots…sometimes I wish I could go back to those places, but of course it's not possible…” The goal for Enlace is to create these familiar environments that belong to the community.

Maria Herrera is the Community Garden Coordinator at Enlace. She looks to create opportunities within the community for people to learn about the environment, for children to be involved, and to produce healthy food.

A few years ago, Enlace began a program in cooperation with Lincoln Park Zoo to bring workshops to the community that would teach about themes related to the environment and food production. The program, ProTEJA, offers a summer opportunity for the whole family. During the warm months, the gardens also transform into open-air classrooms where parents and children learn about a variety of topics. “Right now we are learning about honeycombs, and the importance of bees,” Maru tells us. “They work at pollinating the flowers and that helps nature. What’s more…the bees give us honey, and they give us wax to make candles. Its impressive! Everything about bees is good.”

Ana Maria Manzo is another active participant of the community gardens and of the ProTEJA program. “As the weather is warming up already, we are getting ready to start cleaning and then planting. These are all organic food items that we can bring home to our families. We also have all kinds of programs, where they teach us how to eat these foods, how to prepare them… sometimes they even have yoga classes.”

Maria Herrera tells us about how the ProTEJA Program started out four years ago. “The ProTEJA program seeks to reach the community with education, gardening and art.” In Little Village, there is an existing group of environmental promoters, called “Las Mariposas de La Villita” (Little Village butterflies), who educate themselves about environmental themes in order to then teach the Little Village community, and they are part of the ProTEJA program. ProTEJA generally runs from May to August at both gardens, “Sembrando Bajo el Sol” and "La Calabaza.”

For Rolando Perez, Coordinator of Healthy Food Systems at Enlace, the ProTEJA program teaches important life skills to the children. “Here we learn to live together with animals, to not kill them, because we are all part of the same ecosystem.”

Along with Maria and Rolando, Maru and Ana Maria cordially extend an invitation to the community and neighbors of La Villita to become part of the life of the community gardens. Ana Maria stresses the benefits of participating in the gardens. “We learn to cultivate, and we learn about the earth. We have a wide variety of vegetables here during the summer; we have peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, garlic, lettuce… take advantage! Hopefully, we’ll see you here with your families.”

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