Chicago—the Healthy City

I’m renaming the Windy City, after my first investigatory trip.

I went there this weekend with urban farmer and old friend Novella Carpenter—could this have biased my introduction to the place? We were on the hunt for other urban farms in Chicago and Milwaukee, so Novella could meet the other freaks who somehow grow verdant veggies amid the city’s concrete.

Meet Novella, if you haven’t. She took over an abandoned lot in the Oakland ghetto, and it is now a farm: Goat Town. Fruit trees, veggies galore, chickens for eggs or meat, ducks, goats. At one time a couple of pigs. Those of us who visited remember them as darling, but Novella’s the one who dumpster-dived nightly to fill their insatiable piggy maws. The headcheese was delicious, but she swears “Nevermore.” Though now she gives classes in Oakland on how to slaughter chickens and rabbits (see her blog).

Novella has now written an entertaining book about it all, Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer. I She was among friends here; at the Madison reading, one man asked her at what temperature the prosciutto cures, as if she had inspired him to go home and hang one in the kitchen for the next 18 months.

We hit the road this weekend to see City Farm in Chicago and Growing Power in Milwaukee. More on those in another post, because I have to sort through all the goat pictures for some actual content.

First, my evidence that Chicago is more than cigarettes, weird chili habits and thick pizza. Exhibit A, City Farm, a long block from the infamous Cabrini-Green projects, where lettuce bloomed and wholesome dirt-smudged volunteers ran around with buckets.

Exhibit B, we had arrived in Chicago just in time for the Chicago Marathon. Saturday morning I was trying to get some of the hostel coffee down, and working on opening my eyes. I noticed out of my slits that most of the people around me were rather bouncier and denser of muscle than the ordinary hostel crowd. Plus all the sparkling running shoes. From this surreal scene I glanced out the window, a few stories down to the landscaped flower-beds on the street. “Looks an awful lot like kale,” I said, certain I was hallucinating vegetables, influenced by the haze of health nuts.

But on further coffee and investigation, it was true. Kale and cabbage.

Now I know I can still dine on dino kale if I end up homeless in Chicago.

Now I know I can still dine on dino kale if I end up homeless in Chicago.

We were on the move, so I left it for the locals. Some of whom are hip to the dark leafy street-greens:Chicago street-cabbage, harvested by someone who defines "ornamental" the same way I do. I assume a thorough washing is in order.

Exhibits D and E were the excellent Roman-style Pizza Metro in Wicker Park and the Polish bar across the street, which I dub as neutral to positive healthwise.

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2 responses to “Chicago—the Healthy City

  1. ah! i was in Chicago this weekend, too, visiting Dwayne’s family. you could have come over to have some good old southerners-in-the-city fare: baked mac and cheese, black eyed peas, pork chops, short ribs…which i also dub as neutral to positive healthwise, if you throw in the love and laughter that went with it.

  2. I don’t know how you could call that neutral. Don’t the spark plugs of the soul require soul food to fire properly? That’s what I was told.

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