50 Wards, 50 Weekdays: 1st Ward’s Kay Knight, a community gardener with a plan

June 8, 2012

(WBEZ/Sam Hudzik)
Kay Knight, in front of her plot at Greenhouse Community Garden.

Kay Knight wanted a plot at the Greenhouse Community Garden in East Ukrainian Village, but her name sat on a waitlist for about a year. She volunteered anyway, she says, “and that kind of bumped me up a little bit.”

Now she’s got her land, and is watering mixed greens, carrots, onions, broccoli, bush beans and green peppers. It’ll be a month and a half, she says, before it’s eating time. (She inherited those lilies you see behind her from the previous tenant.)

Knight is 25, a Philadelphia area native who went to Boston College and then joined her boyfriend in Chicago as he trains in improv comedy.

“I didn’t have a job, so I was like, ‘I’ve never been to Chicago. Let’s do it. Why not?’” she says. “He’s taking classes at iO [formerly ImprovOlympic] right now. He did all of Annoyance [Theatre]’s classes, so Second City will probably be next. They will eventually always get your money. But yeah, he’s excited and it’s cool.”

Knight majored in political science and psychology, but here in Chicago she’s focusing on gardening. And not just in this community space. She’s a teacher for infants at a West Loop day care, responsible for the rooftop garden there. And she’s taking a horticultural therapy class at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

“It’s kind of my passion right now. It’s kind of what I’m headed towards, I think,” she says.

For the past year – almost, she’s lived in this Near Northwest Side neighborhood, and says it’s a good mix of young people and families.

“Our street is actually hosting a block party soon, so we’ll get to interact and play some soccer [in the street],” Knight says. “Our next-door neighbors are very into it, so they always play against the wall. So this will be a nice change to kind of get the noise away.”

She laughs, but you just know she's serious about that noise.

The neighborhood is "developing right now, so I’m worried about it almost becoming too gentrified, almost. My street is mostly Hispanic families and I like that,” she says. “But I know a lot of, like, high rise lofts are coming in and stuff, so I don’t know if [the population increase would] be a bad thing.”

“We’ll definitely get cooler stores. There’s an ice cream store coming that I’m pretty excited about. But I just hope that [the neighborhood] stays family oriented.”

Fitting with Knight’s affinity for the urban outdoors, she’s a big fan of a new plan announced by Mayor Rahm Emanuel called “Make Way for People.” It turns more street space over to pedestrians.

In general, though, she thinks it’s a bit early to grade the mayor’s performance.

“He does seem very active, which I approve of. Whether he’s doing things that I approve of or not, the fact that he’s getting things done and being active and not worrying about the paperwork, it’s interesting. It’s cool. It’s a very can-do spirit.”

Before I leave, Knight picks me a handful of small strawberries from an abandoned plot. Delicious.

“I hate to see strawberries go to waste,” she says.