Naomi Neal, Kathryn Stresak, Dorian Gomberg, Ed Vlcek, and Brad Krautwurst are Shimer students participating in the Shimer Internship/Mentorship (SIM) Program. They regularly post updates about their internship experiences.
This post is from Kathryn Stresak, who is interning at Growing Power in Chicago, Illinois.
Last week Taste of Chicago happened in Grant Park. Basically a “Taste” event brings in restaurants from all over to city to one location in booths for people to sample the different foods of the city. Taste of Chicago features over 700 vendors and is the biggest “Taste” event in the world. What this means for me is a lot of curious passersby. The funny thing about having a routine is the circumstantial events that happen repetitiously during the day. In the case of working in an urban garden, I get a lot of the same questions. It’s truly fascinating to me, because there is clearly something in the setup of the garden and my work habits that trigger specific curiosities for people, to the point where the wording is almost always exactly the same.
During the Taste of Chicago, these questions multiplied tenfold. I was tempted to make an informational flier that went through all the questions one might ask, chronologically, of course. One of the funniest questions I get is, “So, what is this?” I know they mean why is there a vegetable garden in a place usually reserved for flowers. Obviously there has to be some intentional reason to grow food in a public park. Everyone always seems very satisfied with the response that we harvest the plants and sell them at farmers’ markets. In some way knowing that the garden serves a purpose quiets their confusion.
Though it does lead into the next question: “So, do people steal food?” I’m never sure how to answer this question. On the one hand, yes I am sure some people come in after dark on occasion and take a few sprigs of mint or a bunch of collards, but I don’t honestly know if I consider this stealing. People always use the word steal. After reading so many thoughts in Social Sciences 2 and 3 on the formation of private property and the system of commodities, I think our farm at Grant does a fine job of blurring the established lines. People are a little unsure of how to take a plot of food growing out in the open without any of the usual signifiers of private property. Placing edible plants, as opposed to ornamental plants, in a public space is almost seen as a faux pas, a goof-up in the structure. Though I can tell none of the people who ask the question would take anything themselves, they are puzzled how something like the Grant Park garden works in system where there are usually multiple steps before the buyer sees the vegetable.
I like seeing urban farming change the way people view food. When people see how their food is grown and who is doing the farming, of course there is a change in the meaning of food. We have a greater appreciation for what it takes to bring food to the table and hopefully a greater appreciation for healthier, fresher food as well. This direct engagement with the community is something that seems unique to urban farming.