On Saturday, September 24, the Curious City team joined the volunteers at El Paseo Community Garden for their annual harvest festival.
The day-long event was filled with flamenco performances, sound healing, honey sales — and a live Curious City episode.
The live episode, hosted by Curious City’s Adriana Cardona-Maguigad, told the story of how El Paseo Community Garden got its start. Adriana talked about how the garden began amid a larger environmental justice movement in Pilsen, and how the site — part of which is a former brownfield — had to be remediated and the soil tested.
Additionally, she talked about how volunteers have worked to slowly expand El Paseo Community Garden over the past decade and how they continue to work to center neighborhood residents — even as the demographics of Pilsen change.
Attendees got to hear some details that didn’t make it into our podcast episode featuring El Paseo Community Garden and its volunteers, as well as clips from some of the volunteers interviewed for the story.
The event also featured a Q&A with several volunteers from El Paseo Community Garden and staff from NeighborSpace, the nonprofit that helped secure the land for the garden:
Paula Acevedo, co-director of El Paseo Community Garden
Cristina Puzio, wellness director at El Paseo Community Garden
Noah Frazier, beekeeper at El Paseo Community Garden
Ben Helphand, executive director at NeighborSpace
Find highlights from the Q&A below.
Questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Are there any city resources that can help young people involved at a community garden learn about gardening?
Ben Helphand: The Parks District has a very robust Community Gardens in the Park program. [According to the Chicago Parks District website, the program provides guidance and resources to community gardens across the city.] So you can reach out to the park supervisor and connect with the Parks District.
This question also highlights a common misconception about community gardens: People often assume that there’s staff at a community garden, that people are getting paid like at a traditional nonprofit. And that there’s a program or agency doing educational programs. But oftentimes there’s just a group of neighbors or a block club or a church who are coming together to garden, creating the programs for themselves.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to turn a vacant lot into a community garden?
Paula Acevedo: Community gardens are started with the people first. So you need to talk to the neighbors, people on the block [and find out] who wants to be a part of this. It’s all about the people first and then once you have that team of people, there’s things that you can apply for in terms of grants and other resources.
I live in Pilsen. How do I get involved at El Paseo Community Garden?
Cristina Puzio: If you want to volunteer, we have a wellness coalition specifically for people that want to give back especially as far as events that have to do with healing. Our Community Healing Mercado is one way that you could volunteer or even be a vendor or a healer. If you want to be part of the wellness programming, you can definitely contact me or the wellness coalition and we can collaborate with you. I would love to see people from the community — from Pilsen — being part of it.
Noah Frazier: As far as beekeeping is concerned, we’ll probably be taking applications in the spring but we’re pretty oversaturated. We only have two hives here and a lot of beekeepers. But I’m really interested in getting other community spaces to host beehives. If we have a high overwintering rate, like we did last year, we’re going to have too many bees and will need somewhere to host them. I’m interested in having them be in a public space and being taken care of by a group of people. So if you or someone you know has a community space and would like to host beehives, definitely reach out to us in the spring.
Audience members also had a chance to share their thoughts about what they liked most about community gardens and what they wanted to see from community gardens in their neighborhoods.
This event was part of a celebration of Curious City’s Pilsen series that the team has been working on for the past year.
We spent several days in Pilsen last summer outside the local library and at community markets gathering questions from neighborhood residents. And we produced stories about the history of Benito Juarez high school and the Lotería doors on 18th Street, why there are so many ice cream shops in Chicago called La Michoacana, what it’s like to be a scrap metal collector, how a group of dancers in Harrison Park are continuing a tradition of Aztec dance and more. We also hosted an event at the National Museum of Mexican Art last fall.