Wednesday, March 13, 2013


Oh, Chicago.

This spring break, my last in my undergraduate career, was spent with eleven other Vandy students in the Windy City thanks to a little organization called Alternative Spring Break. Or, as so many prefer to call it, ASB. ASB as an organization started at Vanderbilt in the 1980's and has become a model for dozens of other alternative break organizations across the country. The whole idea behind it is that instead of spending time on the beach or a cruise during your week off, that you would choose to spend it doing service and working alongside one of 39 sites helping others across the country. I went for the first time last year as a junior, and have been so amazed at the experiences that I had in Talladega, AL and now in Chicago, IL thanks to these trips and the people that came with me.

Our particular trip focused on community gardening in the East Garfield Park community in Chicago. Angela, the main contact for the service we did during the week, started a community garden in a vacant lot next to her house a few years ago, and her passion has sprouted into many community gardens throughout the neighborhood, focusing on sustainability and urban farming for the unification and betterment of the areas that they live. East Garfield Park is in every way a food desert with limited access to fresh and healthy produce, a concept I was first exposed to through the Nashville Mobile Market, and so being a part of a healthy food movement, even for just a week, was an awesome experience.

As you could imagine, gardening in Chicago in March during a week where eight inches of snow fell on the ground was pretty interesting. One day we showed up to a community garden and attempted to relocate raised beds of soil, only to find that the soil inside was frozen solid (it made for some funny pictures, that's for sure). But outside of laying mulch and shoveling snow, we also had a chance to work as a group inside of Angela's greenhouse (pictured above) and the East Garfield Park Conservatory.

Needless to say, this place was gorgeous. Walking inside from the snow was always a kind of shock compared to its humid, warm temperature, but definitely a welcome one. During the week we helped to de-bud about a bazillion azaleas to encourage next year's growth, worked with a lot of sassy succulent cuttings and cleaned a few of the ponds inside where fish live. Can I just say, too, that succulents are such cool plants? Never would I have thought I'd fall in love with cacti, but a few of us from the site already have plans to go visit a local nursery and get us some of these wonderful little plants.

The last day we spent before the week was out was down in downtown, visiting the Shedd Aquarium, Navy Pier, and the Magnificent Mile. My childhood dreams came true when we stumbled upon the American Girl Doll store on Michigan Avenue, and I fell in love with Argo Tea and Lou Malnati's deep dish pizza, pretty much making it the perfect ending to this ASB adventure.

For us, it was one week during the middle of March. We got to go back home to Nashville to our cars and our grocery stores and Whole Foods and meal plans, but for the residents of East Garfield Park, this was their life. Living in this community during the week, going to their Save A Lot and shoveling snow off of their streets made me so grateful for the food access and safe community that I take for granted so often. It also gave me a whole new perspective on health and how your diet can have a dramatic impact on the way that you are able to live your life, and how access to these good foods is still somehow an issue for so many parts of this country, and a huge disparity that needs addressing. As ASB has so consistently done for me before, I came away from this service changed and grateful, and with eleven new friends.

To everyone that came with me on this trip, thank you. For not giving up during Sardines, for a million camp games and a ton of delicious dinners, for sharing your Life Maps, for awesome car playlists, for sharing my obsession with Argo tea, for mulching and shoveling and interacting with the East Garfield Park community and doing it alongside me. You made this a truly unforgettable spring break this year, and I can't wait for more ASBonding this weekend!

Chicago, Let Your Love Grow Tall, you have my heart.

I would hug you, but apparently we don't do hugs around here.
Abby :)

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