By Emma Vuillemot for SUST 350
Our SUST 350 Service and Sustainability course this fall at Roosevelt University takes place at Eden Place Nature Center for another season of working on Fuller Park’s very own nature center and urban farm. Thus far this fall season, a small but mighty team of students and faculty have worked at both the Nature Center and Eden Place Farm.
For those who are new to the SUST Blog, Eden Place Nature Center and Farm is a non-profit urban farm and community green space located in Fuller Park on a plot of land that was once used as an illegal dumping site. Michael Howard, passionate community member and Executive Director of Fuller Park Community Development, once bemoaned this trashed site as an example of environmental racism and municipal neglect in a community plagued by violence and lead contamination. His family inspired the whole community and more to clear the site about 20 years ago,and since then it has transformed into a unique Nature Center that functions as an urban oasis: a nutrient-rich, tree-covered landscape that features native prairie grasses, animals, even a pond.
Eden Place Farm is where their vegetable crops are cultivated. Located about six blocks south of the original Nature Center site, several types of crops are produced and sold at their Saturday Farmers Market throughout the farming season. In addition to growing and harvesting crops and microgreens this fall, EPNC has their hands full hosting school field trips, day camps, and community events, one being Octoberfest — an annual fall family event for the community, featuring activities like a straw bale mountain, a pumpkin patch, and face painting at the Nature Center. All of the events and grooming of the grounds are the product of faithful and intrepid community members and volunteers. People from all walks of life can use this community asset to educate others about nature and conservation in an urban setting.
This semester’s SUST 350 offered a Chicago section as well as an online section for those who could complete an independent service project on a more flexible schedule. With this opportunity to spread sustainability and equity to other communities, registration resulted in six students enrolled in the online section and two students in the Chicago section. Professor Mike Bryson and students Daniel Krejsa and Emma Vuillemot take on the endeavor of prepping for EPNC for events like Octoberfest. Though they are merely three people strong, they have been able to complete several tasks at the Nature Center and Farm with the help of EPNC volunteers and employees.
One of their feats was creating the straw bale pyramid for children to climb at the Nature Center. On October 11th, the team tackled setting up the seemingly easy three-tier pile, but was first confronted with 20 ft. high walls of bound hay bales. This didn’t deter their power and determination to complete the project. Taking up to 11 bales at a time, Daniel, Emma and Mike carted over the bales to the site over the uneven terrain.
Another one of their heavy-duty farm tasks was to help Troy Howard, managing director of EPNC and son of Michael Howard, and EPNC staff Benote Evans transport an industrial kitchen-sized refrigerator through one doorway, out and around the property, and back into the main doors with only centimeters of clearance for movement. Also at the Farm, the 350 team participated in harvesting of produce for the weekly farmers market, flipped large compost piles, and cleared extensive areas of weeds and invasive plants. One of the difficult tasks there was clearing a few rows of the soil for more vegetable crops. What made the tilling a bit more tedious and physical was the lack of heavier machinery, a common drawback for a non-profit urban farm that is as small as EPNC. On the other hand, the manual labor is excellent exercise!
All of the work to maintain the farm and animals has been solely managed by the Howards, bare bones EPNC staff, community members and volunteers, many of whom work behind the scenes of EPNC. Though this year’s SUST 350 group is considerably smaller than previous seasons, their presence is equally valued by EPNC members. Service learning and volunteership are key components to the function of the Nature Center and Farm because Eden Place can then thrive on the nourishment and care.
Emma Vuillemot is a junior Sustainability Studies major and Math minor at Roosevelt University in Chicago IL.