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Dust Off That Green Thumb With Workshops At The Edible Gardens

By Melissa Wiley in Food on May 15, 2014 7:30PM

The Edible Gardens (Photo from The Organic Gardener Ltd.)

The best part of Green City Market isn’t Abby’s crepes or even Gayle’s grilled cheese. It’s the chance to wedge some dirt deep beneath your fingernails just across the street inside the Farm in the Zoo. Back in 2005, Jeanne Nolan made this the home of the Edible Gardens after Abby Mandel, Green City’s founder, suggested Chicago install its own Edible Schoolyard.

“After having spent 17 years as an organic farmer, this project was an opportunity to use skills I’d gained on larger farms right here in the city. It was also the first urban garden I built after starting my company, The Organic Gardener Ltd,” Nolan, also author of From the Ground Up, told Chicagoist.

What began as an exercise in experiential learning for children has grown into a hands-on garden tutorial for adults, with free Saturday morning workshops equally geared to both advanced and novice horticulturalists. This year’s theme, the Columbian Exchange, takes inspiration from the produce trade between Old and New Worlds following Columbus’ voyage to the Americas and some of the better fruits of globalization it spawned. The schooners that followed in his wake, we're reminded, soon brought potatoes to Ireland, tomatoes to Italy, chili peppers to Thailand and more than a few summer staples to our own parts.

“Most of the grains and soybeans we grow in the Midwest were brought here from the Old World during the Columbian exchange,” Nolan reflected. “If you think about summer cookouts, a lot of the staples—watermelon, cucumbers, lettuce, onions, cabbage—come from the Old World too.”

“If we didn’t have this globalized diet,” she continued, “there’d be a lot fewer aisles in the grocery store. The New World would have the tomatoes to make marinara and the Old World would have the wheat to make flour. But there’d be no pizza or spaghetti with red sauce. Indian food wouldn’t have its chilies. European cultures wouldn’t have potato pancakes or latkes. It’d be a hungrier world and a blander one, food wise.”

To illustrate the point, half this year’s garden will grow native Midwestern crops prior to Columbus’ voyage, the other half those that arrived via the old country. After sowing your seeds, you can taste-test which hemisphere's food you prefer, while any left over Nolan donates to the Lakeview Pantry.

The second workshop of the season takes place this Saturday at 9:30 am, when Nolan will demonstrate how to transplant warm-weather crops like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, beans and herbs and configure your garden for maximum production while thinning April’s cold-weather plants. That said, unseasonably cool temps are setting their own agenda.

“Some of the crops we’re growing this year are an experiment. They’re new to us. A lot thrive in warmer climates. This while we’re pushing the envelope to grow crops like ginger and flax.”

Come rain, shine or clouds, however, the workshop schedule is as follows. Just make sure to RSVP by emailing first.

Planning for Summer: Transplanting Warm Weather Crops
Saturday, May 17, 9:30-10:15 a.m.

Necessary Nourishment: Feeding Plants for Healthy Growth and Production
Saturday, June 21, 9:30-10:15 a.m.

Expand Your Growing Season: Planting Fall Crops
Saturday, July 19, 9:30-10:15 a.m.

Keeping a Tidy Garden: Staking, Pruning, Harvesting, and Composting
Saturday, August 23, 9:30-10:15 a.m.

Growing Locally: Tips for Gardening in Chicago
Saturday, September 20, 9:30-10:15 a.m.

Time to Hit the Hay: Putting your Garden to Bed for Winter
Saturday, October 18, 9:30-10:15 a.m.

All workshops take place in the Edible Gardens in Lincoln Park's Farm in the Zoo, located just off Stockton Ave between Dickens and North Avenues.