Yesterday I got to see the world right side up for a little while. We were sitting in a sacred space five blocks from Oak Park on the West Side of Chicago. We sat in the shade of an elm – we a people of diversity, young, old, sunburners and those who do not sunburn. We sat in a garden. It might have been the Garden of Eden. We listened to the people of power tell us about the garden. One of those powerful people was a teenage boy who does not sunburn. He and his classmates had spent the summer transforming this garden from a plot of weeds.
Raised beds lay near us, cradling their bounty of eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, corn and even the ancient amarynth. Bees buzzed into the throat of squash flowers to impregnate their blossoms. Dragonflies gorged on mosquitoes that wanted to tell us the time of day. Birds dived into the surrounding field to call attention to their black beauty.
After the drumming, the singing, the speeches and the poems, the people and other living things walked together in the garden. We introduced ourselves, laughed together, ate together, grimaced at the taste of uncooked amarynth leaves together and congratulated each other on our right-side-up world in this garden.
This is the brother garden to the Oak Park Root Riot garden on Madison Street. The upside-down worlds of Oak Park and Chicago seem far away on this Sunday afternoon. In the upside-down world of Oak Park, the sacred space is our front lawn. Alien grass must be cared for with precision and love. If we don’t have time to care for the grass, we hire landscapers who are poisoned from the emissions of leaf blowers and lawnmowers or chemicals to make the grass greener. What if the inception of an idea took hold in Oak Park? What if we traded our sacred space of lawns with riotous roots – roots that grow vegetables or roots that grow trees or roots that grow native plants? Instead of creating noxious air we would be purifying noxious air to make it breathable and cooler for future generations.
In the upside-down world of Chicago, the killing is more direct – guns take the place of toxic emissions and chemicals. The teenagers that might grow food aren’t allowed to grow themselves before being gunned down by either accidental or purposeful gunfire.
What if the inception of an idea took hold in Chicago? What if empty lots were grabbed from the drug dealers and became growing fields instead of killing fields? What if that right-side-up day in Chicago became a deep-roots movement? What if all of Oak Park followed the example from the West Side of Chicago? Could we upend the status quo in both communities by working together? Could we grow a right-side-up world?
I pledge that this fall I will take the plunge – it will be my one small step in upending this upside-down world. I will face my neighbors and my peers. I will suppress my patriotic duty to keep a pristine lawn. I will dedicate my front yard exclusively to veggies, trees or native plants. I’m glad we had a right-side-up day on Sunday, Aug. 15, at the open house for the Harambee (“all pull together”) garden. I’m hoping that together we can create right-side-up days for our planet and our species.
Ginger Brown Vanderveer is a 20-year Oak Park resident, member of Seven Generations Ahead and is a volunteer with the Green Team of the Park District of Oak Park.