Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Soggy Tourists in Our Own Town

Last Saturday, 21 of us braved the record-breaking rain for the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation's Veggie Bike and Dine event. The event raised money for CBF and for NeighborSpace, which manages land for community gardens across Chicago. The event wound through a number of NCP neighborhoods and got me thinking about the potential for events like this to help neighborhoods snag more tourists in their own town.

We met up in Pilsen, at the Xochiquetzal Peace Garden, created by Whittier School. Signs in English and Spanish pointed out herbs like manzanilla/chamomile. Soy Organic, Pilsen's only organic grocery store, provided a yummy breakfast shake to rev up our metabolisms. We came from Ukrainian Village, West Loop, Oak Park and even the south suburbs, just to name a few.

It wasn't too wet on our way from Pilsen to North Lawndale, by way of Little Village and the Farragut High School parking lot. We arrived in time to watch our snack being made at the Green Youth Farm at 3539 W. Ogden, near the Pink Line Central Park stop. There we had salsa fresh from the garden: red and yellow tomatoes, garlic, cucumber all picked and chopped before our eyes. Teen tour guides from Manley and Collins Academy high schools showed us what they'd been growing all summer in the extensive network of tall raised beds built back in 2005. The salsa was the best I've had all summer, hands down.

Afterwards, we were treated to a special tour of a recently redone community garden nearby. At this point, it was pouring pretty hard and my vision narrowed to the bike in front of me, so I still don't know where in North Lawndale we ended up, but we got to see a newly paved garden featuring pear trees with fruit ready to pick.

Later, we biked through giant puddles in Garfield Park and admired the Conservatory's demonstration gardens. Finally, we visited El Yunque Community Garden in Humboldt Park and Frankie Machine Garden in Ukrainian Village. In the end, we all dried out and enjoyed vegan pizzas at Crust: Eat Real.

All the way along, people on the street cheered and waved at the sight of the soggy cyclists. We had plenty of room for guests at the afterparty, since about half the bikers didn't show, so some of the stalwart community gardeners who turned out to show us their work came and joined us for pizza.

Events like these, whether a 12-mile bike tour or a chamber of commerce restaurant crawl, really help outsiders get the feel of a neighborhood. Here's to sunnier days and more bikers in the group next year!


Rita Brunn said...

I attended the after party which provided us with the best (brick oven baked) and largest selection of veggie pizzas I have ever eaten!
The atmosphere was convivial and the conversation stimulating! Did not participate in the ride itself; however, I know that it was an event that was not to be missed (if possible). I talked with one woman who said she did not bike but since she had signed up and wanted to see the gardens, she drove to them instead. One woman, from Park Ridge,who also lamented that she did not bike this time, pointed out how very much she enjoyed these rides since they take her to areas she has never gone before (she was talking about a previous one on the South Side which stopped at Soul Veg).

To all those, who worked so hard to make this amazing event happen, a big thank you. Each of you, as an organizer, contributes to a better understanding of the unique individuals and areas that contribute to making the city what it is today (one of community involvement by its residents). This, while at the same time, promoting the many benefits to oneself and the environment of biking! BTW, it was good that those involved in the gardens themselves were invited to the after party. I met one of these couples and that encounter provided an interesting exchange of gardening information (I am an Illinois Master Gardener). Can't wait to see where the next one will take us! I say this because even though I don't bike them, they do provide me with the vicarious pleasure of visiting areas and happenings in the always impressive city of Chicago.
Rita Brunn

Maureen Kelleher said...

Thanks, Rita! I'm especially glad to hear you got to do some garden-related networking at the after party.

Maureen Kelleher said...

There are photos from the event online at flickr here:

Thanks to Ben at Neighborspace for letting me know.