Through the lens of a Yard Sharer… Food, fire, magic, and community: Our work on reclaiming Place

Cross-posted from

By Molly Costello

With the arrival of November and all its triumphant color, calm, and hints of frost, so comes the end of our second season as Yard Sharers. We celebrated the closing of another beautiful growing season with a bonfire, soup, and hot chocolate at our friend and land lender Bob’s house. This year we were able to expand our Rogers Park Yard Sharing Network from 1 to 6 back yards and expand our gardener population from one learning program (us) to around 25 new growers.

But as things wind down in our gardens, our work on the network picks up inside! To date, we have spent most of our yard share work time outside building and maintaining the network’s material infrastructure. In line with our vision of making this network flourish and grow, however, we understand our need to develop more of the organizational elements of the network. Therefore, Nell and I have been busy working on financial goals and re-writing land-use-agreements in hope to have a sound model to share with new Summer of Solutions programs come January.

This weekend our leadership team had the opportunity to build our excitement at the Chicago Bioneers Conference. We heard Dr. Vandana Shiva talk about her fierce opposition to industrial agriculture and the beauty and power of community based seed projects. We listened to Starhawk share her wisdom on permaculture, magic, and the power of intentional thought. Perhaps, the three of us were the most giddy when we heard Mark Lakeman speak about his work with the City Repair Project in Portland where they focus on creative and collaborative community transformation with an emphasis on placemaking (the creation of public gathering spaces). His pictures were full of colorful street murals, mosaic tiled public benches, free book shelves, spontaneous potlucks and dancing. As we listened, our imaginations moved quickly into planning mode as we mentally placed those beautiful creations on our own street corners with our own neighbors.

One of the beautiful intersection repairs by City Repair in Portland

Dedicating the new Peace Pole at one of our place making sites this summer

For us here in Rogers Park trying to work on community building in a neighborhood packed with 5 story apartment buildings and minimal green and safe spaces, placemaking has become our religion and our antidote to the density of urban living. Throughout our three projects with LETS GO, we put a lot of effort into creating more opportunity and spaces for neighbors to interact, to turn private into public, to share meals with each other, and make our neighborhood feel like a neighborhood again.

Mark Lakeman reminded us during his talk that for everything that ever came to be in this world, someone, somewhere originally thought it was impossible. He joked about how early homosapiens must have scoffed at the idea of walking on two legs and growing an opposable  thumb. “Well we have our thumbs so lets get to work!”

What drives us as a growing yard sharing network is not the allure of very possible things, like growing fresh tomatoes for our summer salads. What drives us is what some might say is impossible, and that’s the creation of community in a society scarred by isolation. What drives us is the dream of eliminating violence in our communities by the creation of more friendship and trust that stands up to violence and says no. Or rather, the elimination of violence because we have so many opportunities for youth to choose something different with their lives. What drives us is the vision of our kids growing up with more connectedness to the natural world around them and to be more healed because of that relationship.

At the end of Starhawk’s speech, she reminded us that we will not be able to fully move into a new world free of hatred, fear, and suffering until we have more solid visions of what this new world looks like. At LETS GO Chicago, we might not have those visions fully figured out yet, but I know for sure that this new world will have so many places for food growing, fire, magic, and community.

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