Jeanne Nolan- Planting a Movement
By Cleo Lampos
My husband, Vernon, and I went to the Evergreen Park Library recently to hear a lecture on organic gardening. Vernon is an ardent gardener who only uses organic methods on our suburban plot. He grows the food, but I hold the title of chief canner who preserves the produce. Waiting for the speech, I envisioned a wizened woman with gray hair and a green thumb would be speaking. What a surprise when Jeanne Nolan walked to the podium.
Jeanne Nolan is petite, peppy and prepared to deliver the best pitch for the grow-your-own-food movement. With a laptop of photos, Jeanne spoke about her work to convince Chicago to harvest fresh food. She works in three basic areas. One is in the field of education, which really drew my attention to her contributions. Jeanne set up the Edible Garden in the farm section of the Lincoln Park Zoo where children can go to dig in the dirt helping her to plant, tend and harvest an enormous variety of vegetables and fruits. She collaborates with Chicago Public Schools to set up school gardens so the nature deficit disordered urban students can discover how food is grown. This is important for the next generation to understand their connection with the supply of food and the earth around them and Jeanne is trying to facilitate this.
The second challenge that sparked Jeanne’s expertise involved helping lower income persons set up community gardens or small veggie patches in their neighborhoods. She even advocates and prepares container gardening on patios and balconies when that is the only space available. Jeanne reached out to an organization in Humboldt Park that helps homeless youth get back on their feet. The restorative therapy of gardening on top of a concrete jungle helped to heal invisible wounds and speed the process to independent living for many of the residents. Jeanne wants green all over Chicago.
The last area in which Jeanne works is connected with her business, The Organic Gardener. As way to make a living, Jeanne sets up gardens on the estates of wealthy clients who long for organic produce with a low food mileage. Making the growing areas attractive and compatible with the style of the home owners is part of the package. Jeanne teaches the family how to care for the plants and harvest the fruits and vegetables grown on improved soil. Her business has also created the rooftop garden on the restaurant, Uncommon Ground, which uses the organically grown greens in their menu. With her business, Jeanne employs a small staff of gardeners and carpenters.
Probably the most intriguing part of Jeanne is the back story of how she became an organic gardener. Be sure to read her book, From the Ground Up:A Food Grower’s Education in Life, Love, and the Movement That’s Changing the Nation. The book is a page turner that combines how-to garden with philosophy of gardening to a memoir complete with a heart melting love story. All this from a trip to a library book signing.
Cleo Lampos lives with her husband, Vernon, in a Chicago suburb where the excess produce from their abundant garden goes to Share The Harvest, an organization that supplies eight local food pantries. Cleo and her grandchildren volunteer to pack beans for Children’s Hunger Fund.