Updated: Sep 21
These are some of the words or feelings that come to mind as we move into summer. While we walk between the El Jardín de Los Cielos's rows of tomatillos, chiles, and chard, on the roof of 2759 S. Harding, Rolando Perez, Coordinator of Enlace’s program for Healthy Food Systems tells us about his role, and the ways he is involved with the community. He explains about the different ways he works to transmit knowledge about nutrition and gardening here in La Villita.
Rolando is part of the Community Health team at Enlace, but in his role he actually works and interacts with staff and participants of all the teams of the organization. He is an ambassador, not just internally, but also externally with other organizations in La Villita and the surrounding communities. His view is that, “through gardening, the contact with the earth, the planting, the harvesting, we can reap many benefits, including physical and mental health,” he shares.
By putting together various programs and workshops about gardening and nutrition, Rolando spreads information about many distinct types of plants, vegetables and cooking. Adults, youth and children all gather to learn about the different calendars for planting and harvesting of foods, medicinal herbs, and how to use these natural elements in cooking recipes. The kitchen is the ideal place to learn about nutrition, he says, “the kids learn to cook with healthy produce and they can bring these recipes that we make together home to share with their families.”
During the school year, Rolando collaborates with three community schools: Eli Whitney Elementary School, Lázaro Cardenas Elementary School and Kanoon. “At Whitney and Cardenas, the kids learn about nutrition and gardening through after- school programs. At Kanoon, I work with the Parent Mentors,” he explains.
The work during summer season when school is out is never ending. On the contrary, it is full of opportunities for collaboration and community participation. The gardens, “Sembrando Bajo el Sol” y “La Calabaza,” are spaces where adults, small children, and youth can spread their learning. Rolando and the youth of “One Summer Chicago” deliver workshops and presentations to the gardeners at both gardens two days a week. The rest of the week, Rolando divides his time between those two gardens and the building at 2759, where he runs programs and takes care of the El Jardín de Los Cielos, which has a greenhouse and is able to produce vegetables year-round. “Its during the month of February when we start preparing the seeds in the greenhouse and in people’s houses in order to be able then to transplant them into the gardens, and care for them until harvest,” he explains.
Mercado de Colores
Rolando also dedicates part of his time to collaborating with the Mercado de Colores, an initiative that began thanks to a coalition of gardeners in La Villita some years back. This is a space dedicated to healthy products and arts and crafts. It takes place on weekends during the summer at Manuel Perez Jr. Plaza, from June 3rd, all the way until October 7th.
For more information about programming available for this summer or fall, please contact Rolando Perez, at firstname.lastname@example.org , or visit one of the community gardens.