Wednesday, June 27, 2012


Yesterday, Openlands' staff and some special guests toured a patchwork of community-powered food-growing gardens, small and large, throughout Chicago.

I was struck by the blighted Englewood neighborhood in Chicago. It's notorious for being the murder capital of Chicago. Boarded-up buildings are the norm, and even on a beautiful, sunny June day, it just has a beat-down feeling to it.

However, in the middle of this neighborhood is a little oasis - Hermitage Street Community Garden. This one-year-old allotment garden is fueled by the neighbors' passion - families each have a plot to plant their strawberries, squash and tomatoes. The chief community organizer told us that the space is also used for gatherings - a neighborhood safe haven. Other neighbors are being inspired to claim other abandoned lots to make their own gardens.

We also visited the Chicago Botanic Garden's Green Youth Farm in Chicago's Washington Park (Chicago had proposed this park as a major site during its bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics.) The coordinator of this education/summer job program told us many stories. One was about the daily routine of going around the group of high school students, where they'd receive feedback on things they were doing well and one thing they needed to work on. One student broke down in tears, the coordinator recounted. Not because of the room-for-improvement feedback but because of the positive feedback. She explained no one had given her that reinforcement before.

And so.

I can always relate these things back to parenthood, can't I?

Chicago has lots of week-long camp options. You could be a superhero one week and a zoo explorer the next. This week, Jack is participating in his first day camp experience at our tennis club. I was nervous - I've been to the club but I didn't have a chance to meet his counselors or see what he'd be doing. And Monday night, Jack was whispering into his plate, "you're bad." This set off a tiny alarm for me.

I pressed him to tell me more. In my head, I'm imagining older, bigger boys jeering my son and his clumsy ways (he has my genes, let's be frank). I briefly considered homeschooling.

In reality, he and a girl  apparently got into a row about a water bottle, and this little girl declared him "bad."

Jack and I talked about how he can behave with this fellow camper and then just overall about how he feels about himself. We can't control what people say to us, I told him, but we can control how we think about it and how we act.

Who knows what sank in.

This morning, I related the high school student's reaction to positive feedback to Jeremy. In the next breath, I asked Jack what makes him special. He just hugged me.

My kids know they are loved and how to love. I hope this helps to build them a strong foundation to rely upon as they grow. I can't be at every thing Jack will take on in life, nor should I be. He will need to rely upon his own foundation of what he believes....kind of like the hope and strength the gardeners in Englewood are cultivating and propagating.

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