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Photo by L.E. Williams/Courtesy of Bronzeville Community Garden

Bronzeville Community Garden is situated at the southeast corner of East 51st Street and South Calumet Avenue.


Back to their roots: Community gardens connect diverse neighborhoods with their pasts

by Anca Ulea
Jan 30, 2014


Courtesy, La Huerta Roots and Rays

La Huerta Roots and Rays is located at 1513 W. Cullerton St. in Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood.

When Erika Bravo first joined La Huerta Roots and Rays community garden in Pilsen last year, she wasn't sure if she fit in.

As one of the few Latina faces among the gardeners, the mother of two says she understood why some people from the largely Latino community might feel uncomfortable joining. But the kindness of the members and the opportunity to get in touch with nature kept her coming back, and now she encourages other Latino families to join.

"I absolutely think people are more comfortable with it now," Bravo says. "Now because there are children, more families are coming and joining the garden."

Roots and Rays, which started in 2009, is one of more than 80 community gardens in Chicago, many of which are adapting in order to engage all members of diverse and changing communities.

Garden leader Patricia Bon says members actively try to reach out to underrepresented groups in the community to join, but that's not always easy.

"It’s actually quite hard,” Bon says. “We find a lot of people who are interested in the garden are white, young, students, more hipster types. But at the same time there’s a very strong culture of gardening in the Latino community and the Mexican community in general."

Farther south, other gardeners want to engage their community to reconnect with its historical gardening culture. The Bronzeville Community Garden started in 2010 in a neighborhood that is generally considered to be a food desert, an area where healthy food options are not readily available. The garden is part of a community redevelopment project that will provide a local produce market, new culinary venues and a rooftop farm to the predominantly African-American neighborhood.

“We work really hard to change people’s ideas about where their food comes from and to reestablish a connection to how your food grows and is transported,” says garden manager Latrice Williams.

The biggest challenge the garden faces, Williams says, is being consistent with their programming and getting more senior citizens involved. Many seniors left their gardens behind when they came to Chicago from the South during the Great Migration, Williams explains. One of her goals for this harvest season is to get more of them back to their rural roots.

Dana Holdman El, a volunteer at the Bronzeville garden, says she felt welcomed by the open layout of the garden and the sense of respect the garden elicited from residents. Her family hails from the South.

“My great grandmother used to tell me stories about the South,” Holdman El says. “She would tell us about growing your own food.”

She says the garden is a way to just give them a place to hang out and meet each other.

“Once we become more exposed to different ways of living, different cultures, languages, we can look at our lives and become more reflective about what we’re doing,” Holdman El says. “It’s about growth, it’s about nourishment. I just think it’s a good thing.”