Food Not Bombs Pilsen Reclaims Long Abandoned Police Station

By aaroncynic in News on May 13, 2014 9:15PM

Food Not Bombs, a loosely knit group of autonomous collectives, has long had various incarnations in Chicago. For decades, activists who volunteer with the global movement have served free food as part service to their communities and part protest, usually obtaining their supplies from items donated by grocery stores and restaurants that would normally go to waste, donations from people in the community and, sometimes, even dumpster diving.

Over the years, various chapters have sprung up across neighborhoods in Chicago. In Pilsen, community activists have claimed the name on and off again for about eight years, and Food Not Bombs Pilsen in its most current form has been serving meals on Sunday afternoons at 18th Street and Blue Island for about two years. “It’s a great way to get out in the community and show people an alternative way of collectively interacting with people, creating mutual aid,” said Dylan, an organizer with the group who’s lived in Pilsen for the past five years.

Over the weekend, members affiliated with the group and others from the neighborhood gathered to sow the first seeds on what they hope will be garden for the community.

“Earlier this winter we had the idea that while we really like to save food from being destroyed, we also like the idea of trying to do local gardening to be more self-sufficient,” Dylan said. The group began building raised beds a few months ago, some of which have been placed on private residences and some in other discreet locations he did not disclose. The garden the group began building on Saturday, which sits behind a boarded up police station left vacant for about eight years, is the first public growing space.

The decision to build the garden on the second oldest police facility in Chicago was political. According to a statement from Food Not Bombs Pilsen:

“The building’s current condition and its previous use as a police precinct represents the systemic social dispossession necessary for global capitalism. The privatized and restricted status of the building today represents the insane exclusionary social practices required to make sure market exchange is the only medium for accessing the means of survival, political power, and cultural expression.”

Taking a break from bringing over jugs of water filled from a house nearby, Eli Gonzalez, who grew up in Little Village and has lived in the neighborhood for a year, talked about some of his personal reasons for working in the garden. “I wanted to do something that bettered the lives of the people in my community and the people around me,” said Gonzalez. “Something tangible that you can put your hands on. There’s a difference between petitions and walking in a march as opposed to handing somebody some groceries we grew ourselves that they can eat and feel better directly in that moment.”

According to a press release from the city’s website, the property is in the process of being sold to a local non-profit, Pilsen Wellness, Inc. Organizers said that they became aware of the sale only recently, long after they began their work to build the garden on the site. They, however, said they hope the organization working on the purchase would be open to working with them in keeping the garden for the community. Chicagoist reached out to PWC but did not hear back in time before publication. In a statement released to Chicagoist, Pilsen Food Not Bombs said:

“Our understanding is that the earliest the construction could begin is September, which would give us plenty of time to harvest crops with the community. Hopefully they see the benefits of the this garden in the community & choose to keep it alive.”

Organizers with the group said the gardens are meant to provide a supplemental food source they already obtain, and will also be given out at the food share on Sunday afternoons. So far, Dylan said the response from the community on both the meals on Sunday and the garden has been overwhelmingly positive. “We did a lot of door to door outreach, flyering and reaching out to different neighborhood organizations. A lot of the people here are from around the area and the block,” said Dylan. “Generally, there’s a good community of people who come and get food from us, share food and help us out.”

Freelance journalist John Robb contributed to this story.