The concrete jungle of inner city living disappeared for two days during Garfield Park Conservatory’s Harvest Days held September 8-9.
Urbanites got a chance to commune with nature at the West Garfield Park facility, located at 300 N. Central Park. Visitors petted goats, learned about the city’s backyard chicken movement, and how to compost and make homemade preserves.
The conservatory offered a beekeeping demonstration, although the honey tasting portion was cut short due to pesky wasps drawn to the sweet nectar. Horse drawn hayrides were offered for kids, along with arts and craft activities such as making cornhusk dolls. Visitors also got a chance to spread some beauty by creating seed bombs of clay, as well as soil-infused pebbles packed with sunflower seeds that people can pitch into any open or vacant city lots.
Formerly called County Fair, Harvest Days aims to celebrate the fall harvest season, giving Chicagoans a chance to stop and smell the roses. The conservatory’s Robin Cline said the hustle and bustle of daily life often leave people feeling disconnected from what makes life worth living.
“We miss out by having such a busy life …,” said Cline, the assistant director of programs and interpretations at the conservatory. “Just stop and feel the beauty of being in a great outdoor space in the middle of the city.”
This year’s fair also brought new visitors to the West Side botanic garden for the first time.
“We discovered a lot of people that came to our county fairs weren’t actually coming into the conservatory and didn’t know what kind of beautiful gardens we had to offer,” Cline said. “We have a lot of interesting programs here … and we just want to make sure people were aware of the opportunities.”
One of those opportunities is the conservatory’s urban demonstration garden, highlighting practices people can do within their own outdoor spaces. Demonstrations included ideas on capturing rainwater or using yard waste to make healthy soil. Cline describes the demonstration garden as a “living classroom.”
Maria Sorrell took advantage of the canning demonstration, sponsored by Jane Addams Hull House Museum. As a member of Root Riot, a community garden group in Austin, Sorrell often has a lot of produce left over from her garden. She says she never knows what to do with. Sorrell got tips on how to keep her produce from going limp.
“My idea is to just take the stuff that I can and just pass them out as gifts,” Sorrell said.
The biggest draw at the event was veggie bingo, a new twist on the classic game. Participants had a chance to win vegetable baskets filled with produce from the conservatory’s demonstration garden, local community gardens or home growers.
Anthony Cotton, 7, walked away a winner, carrying a basket filled with an eggplant, poblano peppers, onions and tomatoes. Cotton, who came with his grandmother Deborah Moore and 5-year-old sister Jordan, enjoyed the hayride. He also took home some radishes to plant in his garden that’s already teeming with cilantro, cantaloupe and watermelon
“We tried to plant strawberries but they died,” Cotton said.
The event was a family affair for Kenwood resident Crystal Watson who came out with her children and cousins. Her cousin, Shelly Robinson, described the conservatory as an “oasis in the hood.”
“It’s not that expensive; it’s not that far away where you drive 30 miles to enjoy yourself,” said the former Austin resident, who now lives on the South Side.
Watson’s said her 9-year-old son, Christopher, is into nature and “thought it would be exciting for the kids.”