Friday, August 23, 2013

A Story of One City Farm

Even Cabrini-Green isn't immune to the idea of transformation.  The most notorious public housing of my generation began demolition over 13 years ago.  A small portion of it has now evolved into an urban farm.

1204 N. Clybourn as of August 2013

Courtesy Chicago Sun-Times, prior to demolition in the late 90's

Courtesy The Rap Dictionary

At one point over 15,000 people called this area home.  High rises, low rises and row houses meant to corral like low-income citizens, turned into a place where Thelma Ruffin, a Cabrini-Green resident who ran a Local Advisory Council said, "You see kids running around the buildings all the time, but they don`t have anywhere to go because they don`t have any programs for them."  The confluence of little to no government funding for police or programs and its proximity to very affluent neighbors a couple blocks over made the area a lucrative area for drug sales.  Intense competition ensued turning the housing project into a war zone of drugs and violence.

Imagine, the only place you know is more comfortable than the one that you don't know.  Cabrini-green residents were relocated to mixed-income neighborhoods throughout the city; scattered to the wind like seeds intended by housing officials to find their way to a grow a new generation in "better" circumstances.  Depending on who you ask, that has been debatable.

On a lot near where people once threw trash into part of a complex adjacent to the Chicago Board of Education`s Ferguson Child-Parent Center on 1215 N. Clybourn Ave.,  I now marvel at it's beauty and its' productiveness thanks to Chicago Lights Urban Farm.

Never forgetting so many were displaced from their homes, regardless of the conditions, the farm was created to give way to new economic opportunities.   Through nutritional education and work-force training, it now provides a safe haven for children to learn about urban farming. Where competition for turf once resulted in gang wars, now the competition is about getting a slot to participate in the work-force training program.

Not to be minimized, the farm provides access to healthy food in a place that has been known to be a food desert.  The farm participates in CSA's, farmer's markets and sources local restaurants.  According to a recent article in the Chicago Sun-Times, 253,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables have been grown this year on 15 acres of urban farms in the city of Chicago alone.

Packing up for Farmer's Market

While I am a visitor today, I know this Urban Farm too shall transform yet again.  You see, I once lived not to far from here.  Chicago does not standstill. 

In February, 2013, the Fourth Presbyterian Church behind the Chicago Light project sought help to fund the property.  With no such suitor to be found, the board accepted an offer from the Chicago Housing Authority to buy the property with a lease-back option for free.  What we do know, is they will continue operating until May 2015 until which time they may need to find an alternate site to continue their mission.  It is unknown, at the time of this writing, the future plans the Chicago Housing Authority has for the property.

My thanks to the volunteers at the farm who allowed me to take pictures in their fields on this fine August day.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Art of Dining Alone

I'm a bit out of practice in the business travel arena.  I've had past jobs where travel was so frenetic I just wanted to luxuriate on some old fashioned room service.  Room service can lull one into rest for the weary or depending on how you look at it, avoid being alone in a crowd.

I had recently read an article in Southern Living's July magazine on the best fried chicken restaurants in the south when I was assigned to travel to Montgomery, AL.  Flying in and out of Atlanta to ultimately get to my final destination, I heard that fried chicken calling my name and I was determined not to be a wallflower on this trip!  Taking my Southern Living adviser's recommendation, I chose Watershed on Peachtree in Atlanta.  Reserved my hotel on Peachtree and thought my plans were taking fine shape.

Who knew there were MANY Peachtree street variations in Atlanta?   71 to be exact!  Clearly I had not done my research.  Since I was on foot, there was no way I could make it to Watershed 9 miles away.  My plans were dashed.  Not to be dissuaded, the concierge gave me a terrific option.  Less than a mile away, he not only recommended South City Kitchen but told me the best things on the menu to order.

If you are dining alone, but want to take in the scene, sitting at the bar is the way to go.  Getting a last minute reservation at the South City Kitchen is actually tough if you have more than one in your party.  Lucky for me, one seat was left at the bar.  Lined up with my fellow road warriors, it's wasn't difficult to make conversation. I had a lovely, brief conversation with a medical equipment trainer who eluded to posting her travel/restaurant finds to Facebook.  Through the magic of social media, friends found her visiting in their towns and would quickly connect.

Ah...the power of suggestion.  I decide to take a picture of my first course, fried green tomatoes.  Yes, I gave into what I said I wasn't going to do in a previous post, taking foodie pictures at a restaurant.

A southern raised friend had always encouraged me to try them.  Now that I was, I messaged her via Facebook.  BTW, the tomatoes had goat cheese nestled between the layers.  Oh my was that tangy, crunchy and soft at the same time.  I'll have to try making this at home.

The star entree of my deeply desired fried chicken made it's appearance.  But phone is lighting up with Facebook likes and comments.  Even though it may be irritating take a picture in the restaurant, my friends clearly liked what they were seeing.  Setting the phone aside, I gobbled every last bite of the peppery seasoned goodness.  

My bartender said no southern meal for a Southern California girl would be complete if I didn't top it  off with banana pudding and homemade vanilla wafers.  "If I must" I said.

At the end of a very gratifying meal where I completely gave myself to the experience, I saw I had a message.  A good friend of John and mine from our Dallas days was also in Atlanta on business!

For those who say Facebook is passe', I say nay!  Had I holed up in my room after my long work day, I would have gone home to So Cal not experiencing a bit of Atlanta and nor would I have seen our friend, Shawn.  The art of dining alone turned into the art of experiencing.
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