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Gardening in Bronzeville Image

Devon Cato, a neighborhood teen who volunteered last year at the Bronzeville Community Garden in Chicago, slowed during his early morning shortcut through the garden on his walk to classes at nearby Dyett High School.

He waved when he spotted Bernard Loyd, president of Urban Juncture Foundation and waited for Loyd to finish a conversation near the front of the garden on the corner of 51st Street and Calumet Avenue.

Loyd planned to end the mid-March garden visit by 8:30 a.m., in time for a day filled with business meetings. His to-do list included an appointment with an electrician and a quick chance to finalize plans for the initial visit of volunteers who were scheduled to fortify 12 raised garden beds with compost.

“Did you hear about the trouble last night?” Cato asked when Loyd approached him with a smile and a handshake.

There had been a shooting on this tough stretch of Calumet Avenue.

“No, I haven’t heard,” Loyd said, placing his hand on the young man’s shoulder, listening calmly to the retelling of a confrontation between two young men the night before. When Cato finished, he lowered his voice.

“That’s why we can’t have nice things around here,” he said almost in a whisper.

“That’s not correct,” Loyd answered quickly. “Events like the one you describe are exactly why we are working so hard to return nice things to this neighborhood … exactly why we have to keep working,” he said, gesturing around the corner lot.

Bronzeville neighbors help themselves

Last August, on this corner of Chicago’s historic Bronzeville neighborhood, neighbors and guests mingled over refreshments featuring recently harvested fresh vegetables and herbs. They were celebrating Chicago’s newest South Side urban garden, located on the western edge of the community where Chicago-bound African-Americans settled after leaving the South to seek a better life in northern cities during the Great Migration.

A poster reminding guests about garden rules and hours of operation (6 a.m. to 10 p.m.) included a generous invitation that summed up the spirit of the day and reflected the new garden’s mission:Bronzeville Community Garden

All community members may help themselves to produce from designated community beds.

“We’re making the same offer this year with a few limitations,” said Loyd, walking through the garden after Cato continued on to high school classes.

Loyd is also president and founder of Urban Juncture development company, a venture in the final funding stages for a $9-million Cuisine of the Diaspora project, Bronzeville Cookin’, with plans to create 140 jobs among the four restaurants, produce market and parking facilities.

The 17,000-square-foot building and land already purchased for the project are one block east of the garden, adjacent to the nearby 51st Street elevated train (El) station, which is on the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) green line.

As funding continues for the last million dollars needed for the project, the garden is already earning recognition. Last year the garden leadership team won one of three of Mayor Richard M. Daley’s  GreenWorks Community Leadership Awards for 2010.

“We’re planning to reserve a small portion of produce and herbs from this year’s harvest for cooking demonstrations and community dinners,” said Loyd, when asked about changes this year.

The former partner at McKinsey & Co., who left the consulting firm after 13 years to work in Bronzeville, said he feels a sense of urgency “but wants to get things right.” He describes the Bronzeville community as home and “a tremendous ‘city within a city’ with unique culture and commerce.”

“I felt Bronzeville had great need and opportunity and decided to focus all of my time and resources on helping develop my community,” he said.

Fresh food makes a difference

Loyd said he envisioned the garden as a platform for informing the community about crop production, food preparation and the relationship between food and health.

Bernard LoydImmediate priorities for the garden are completing the wood-framed chef’s pavilion with counters and a cutting surface; and adding a water source in time for cooking demonstrations and nutrition classes scheduled to begin this summer.

Already in place, a massive wooden communal dining table and “life-size” chess/checker stations have survived Chicago’s tough winter in great shape.

“I’m looking forward to observing the spirited chess and checker games. It’s wonderful to experience a safe space for adults and children to interact,” said Chef Tsadakeeyah Emmanuel, a part of the GreenWorks award-winning leadership team who also plans to open his own restaurant, Majani 310, in the 17,000 square-foot building Urban Juncture has put in place.

Last year’s favorite crops? “We’re stressing simplicity and familiar, says the chef. Everybody loved the tomatoes. String beans came in a close second,” he said, adding, “Most of the children had never seen plants growing. When I encouraged them to taste the fresh beans from the vine, they were amazed. They were also fascinated by the edible marigolds,” he said. “This year we’re planting collards, eggplant, okra, cucumbers, melons, onions and string beans and a big assortment of fresh herbs,” he said.

“It’s hard to describe the joy of being here with the community in a garden,” said Chef Emmanuel.

“For me, it’s a great inspiration watching children and adults appreciate fresh, good food, and knowing this garden is going to make a difference for the rest of their lives … and mine.”


Donna Pierce is a Chicago-based food writer specializing in Southern, soul and Creole foodways. A contributing editor with Upscale magazine and a former assistant food editor and test kitchen director with the Chicago Tribune, Donna is the founder of BlackAmericaCooks.com and will soon launch SkilletDiaries.com for community cooks of all cultures and nationalities.

Photos, from top:
Bernard Loyd at the Bronzeville Community Garden.
The Bronzeville Community Garden ready for this season’s plantings.
Bernard Loyd.
Credits: Donna Pierce

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Maya Angelou Talks Food Image

Compare Maya Angelou’s two cookbooks, “Hallelujah! The Welcome Table,” published in 2004, and “Great Food, All Day Long: Cooking Splendidly, Eating Smart,” in December, 2010, and you’ll notice a transformation in Angelou’s cover photographs. She looks much slimmer in the recent picture.

“I lost 40 pounds,” said the distinguished writer and poet, who is scheduled to receive the 2010 Medal of Freedom award from President Barack Obama in a February ceremony.

According to Angelou, the pounds came off without a diet. “I didn’t deprive myself of anything,” she said in a recent telephone conversation. “I sampled all of the delicious recipes in my cookbook.”

How can this be with a recipe list composed of crown roast of pork, pork tacos, cheese pie and creme caramel?

“I didn’t skimp on butter or other ingredients typically eliminated in weight-loss diets,” Angelou said. “I’ve learned that good recipes made with best-quality ingredients turn out to be so flavorful that I can feel satisfied with less.”

Portion control

Experts agree that portion control and more frequent smaller meals may be a healthful answer for those looking to lose a few pounds. “Dr. Angelou’s eating plan is right on target,” said Melinda Hemmelgarn, a registered dietician and nutritional consultant who moderates the Food Sleuth weekly radio program devoted to nutrition and food safety issues.Maya Angelou's cookbook 'Hallelujah! The Welcome Table'

“As a society, we’re often rushing so fast we don’t allow ourselves to sense fullness. Instead we keep eating the food in front of us. At the end of the day what counts is the amount of calories consumed. Portion control gives us time to notice when we’ve had enough,” Hemmelgarn said.

When Angelou entertains with Christmas, Kwanzaa and New Year’s Day holiday menus, she says she includes several vegetarian recipes she has come to appreciate based on her close friendship with songwriters Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson.

“He’s a vegetarian and she eats a little bit of meat … Until I met Valerie Simpson and Nick Ashford I had never thought it could be exciting to be creative and cook vegetarian food,” she says. Angelou named a chapter in her first book for the salad she created for them and said she prepares it for them each time they visit. It was a part of this New Year’s Day menu along with black-eyed peas and rice.

The holiday table

“Black-eyed and rice … that’s just what I call it … not Hoppin’ John, which I think is a regional term. I make the black-eyed peas and rice separately and serve the peas over rice. According to tradition, this dish ensures a healthy new year. We serve kale, mustard and other greens such as cabbage as a guarantee for wealth.”

Angelou said her guests are the most important New Year’s Day ingredients for her holiday celebrations.

“My holiday table always includes international people from different ethnic groups celebrating the fact that we are hanging in there together … going the distance.”

Advice for holiday cooks?

“Relax and enjoy your guests. Do the best you can and forgive yourself for any cooking mistakes should they happen. After you set the table with your best efforts, let your real pleasure come from looking around the table before breaking bread together and appreciating the similarities in your guests rather than the differences,” Angelou said.

“This new year, more than ever, we need to stop and appreciate the fact that we are more alike than our differences. We need to appreciate that we are all one people.”

Ashford Salad

Adapted from “Hallelujah! The Welcome Table.” Serves 6 to 8

Ingredients

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
½ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 avocado, peeled, diced
1 large tomato, cut into small wedges
1 large English cucumber, sliced
2 heads Romaine lettuce, tough outer leaves removed

Directions

  1. Mix oil, lemon juice, vinegar, sugar and garlic in a large salad bowl.
  2. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Mash avocado with potato masher, and mix with ingredients in salad bowl.
  4. Mix in tomato and cucumber.
  5. Break lettuce into large pieces and toss into salad bowl.
  6. Mix vigorously with salad tongs until each lettuce leaf has been flavored with dressing.

Donna Pierce is a Chicago-based food writer specializing in Southern, soul and Creole foodways. A contributing editor with Upscale magazine and a former assistant food editor and test kitchen director with the Chicago Tribune, Donna is the founder of BlackAmericaCooks.com and will soon launch SkilletDiaries.com for community cooks of all cultures and nationalities.

Images, from top:

Book cover of “Great Food All Day Long: Cooking Splendidly, Eating Smart” by Maya Angelou.

Book cover of “Hallelujah! The Welcome Table” by Maya Angelou.

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