By Daniel Krejsa for SUST 350
Within the frayed urban landscape of the south side Chicago neighborhood of Fuller Park, there is sliver of green space that provides visitors a glimpse of what Chicago looked like before industrialization. Nestled between a lively railroad crossing and a bustling interstate, this sanctuary demonstrates that life can grow amidst urbanization. Eden Place Nature Center covers an entire city block with lush plant life native to the region growing in abundance.
Farm animals from chickens to ducks, goats, and ponies roam the grounds, bathing in a man-made pond and eating the vegetation grown within the parameters. Native prairie grasses and wetland plants can be seen covering existing street signs, signifying the endurance of the natural world within the urban landscape.
This area provides more than just a place for animals to live and plants to grow; it gives the people of Fuller Park opportunities to experience something they probably never have before. The nature center gives them a chance to get out of the grit and grind of the city and allows children to learn about the natural environment. This opportunity is of great value, not the least because the community of Fuller Park is predominantly low-income African Americans who are bound to the borders of the city and whose children are hardly ever introduced to wildlife.
Apart from squirrels and pigeons, children only get depictions of animals from movies and animated television shows. Education is an important part of preserving the natural world and in today’s political climate, this could not be more relevant. Eden Place educates children from local schools about the workings and preservation in order to give these kids an appreciation for wilderness and animal life, hoping that in doing so, they too will work to protect our forests, prairies, and other green spaces in the future.
Another way Eden Place has tackled local environmental issues is with the establishment of Eden Place Farm, where I have been grateful enough to do some work at this fall semester in Roosevelt’s SUST 350 Service & Sustainability class. This humble post-industrial site grows several varieties of vegetables, freshly picked and cleaned in order to sell to people within the community through weekly farmers markets.
The concept of fresh produce may seem simple to people like myself, with easy access to fruits and vegetables daily; but this is not the case for many people living in low income neighborhoods, such as Fuller Park. Lack of easy access to fresh produce can deter people from traveling far distances to obtain healthy foods and instead encourage them to purchase processed alternatives from local corner stores.
This is described in South Side Weekly’s article “The Fight for Fruits and Veggies,” which analyzes food access in poorer neighborhoods with less healthy food opportunities. An increase in dialysis clinics is clear evidence that this problem is having lasting effects in these communities, and Eden Place Farm is here to provide a service to counteract this trend. The operation is not yet large-scale and cannot feed everyone within the area, but they are creating a foundation to what could be: a thriving urban farm that doesn’t depend on food traveling thousands of miles releasing gross amounts of carbon. Customers don’t need to check the origins of fruits and vegetables wondering if they grower is under the thumb of the Monsanto company. While this farm site has limited room to grow, Eden Place intends to spread the idea on Chicago South and West Sides, where it can easily multiply to other empty lots around the area — and yes, there are plenty.
Through perseverance and education, Eden Place is on the forefront of a revolution to change how people get their food. With many other urban farms already in place around Chicago, it’s only a matter of time until this becomes the new norm.
Makoul, Z. (2016, December 01). The Fight for Fruits & Veggies – South Side Weekly. Retrieved October 23, 2017, from https://southsideweekly.com/the-fight-for-fruits-veggies/
Dan Kresja is a senior Sustainability Studies major and Math minor at Roosevelt University.