Interview Issue 2018 | Nature

Soil and Sovereignty

A Pullman resident uses mushrooms to heal a formerly toxic site in the neighborhood

Viviana Gentry Fernandez-Pellon is a fourth-generation Chicagoan who has taken on an issue they suffer from personally: environmental racism. Co-owner of the Chicago Mushroom Company, Fernandez-Pellon lives in the Pullman neighborhood, a three minute alley-walk away from the community garden they codirect called the Cooperation Operation. It is located on a formerly toxic site that neighbors forced the EPA to remediate (remove contaminants and restore ecological balance) in 1983. That process created public records that Fernandez-Pellon could request to view through the Freedom of Information Act. They did, and used the information to learn the history of the industrial uses—and remediation efforts—within the site. Today, they are using mushrooms, a method of bioremediation—accomplishing remediation through living organismsto heal that soil, which has suffered from decades of industrial contamination. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Development | Environment | Far Southeast Side | Nature

Shoreline Abnormality

An industrial corridor’s past and future, as seen from the waters of the Calumet

Piles of salt on city-owned land on the Calumet River (Courtesy Ders Anderson)

Down the Calumet River from a former petcoke storage site, several acres of early growth trees rustle gently in the breeze. It’s one of a few areas with sustained natural growth on the northern part of the river, which snakes through the Southeast Side’s industrial corridor. Tom Shepherd, an environmental activist and longtime Southeast Side resident—and, on a recent overcast morning, the guide of a boat tour down the river—singles that parcel out as we pass by. “It’s really amazing on that property to see how nature makes its comeback,” he says.

Nature | Stage & Screen | Visual Arts

Sites for Leisure, Sites of Danger

Artists and activists discuss reclaiming parkland as a public space

Courtesy South Side Home Movie Project

When L. Anton Seals, Jr. was growing up in South Shore, he and his family would often spend weekend nights camped out in Chicago’s public parks. Back then, he said, his family and friends took the Chicago Park District’s 11pm closing time as a suggestion, not a rule: “[We were like], how the park gon’ close at 11 o’clock?… Who gives you the right to close the earth?”

Nature | Visual Arts

Growing Neighborhoods

An art exhibit connects local goals and larger climate problems

Courtesy of Jenny Kendler

Garden for a Changing Climate,” the traveling public art project by artist Jenny Kendler, has grown as organically as one of its mobile planters.

Lit | Nature

Leisure at a Price

A new history showcases Black Chicagoans’ complex relationship with nature

Brian McCammack wants to push against the idea that the history of African Americans’ use of public space in and around Chicago can be summed up simply.

Food Issue 2018 | Nature

Stewards For the Land

Some of the farmers behind the city’s newer generation of cooperative farms

Siena Fite

Instead of being rural and vast, these farms are a couple-acre lots enclosed by major streets and railway lines. Instead of shipping produce long distances, these farms serve their local, South Side communities. Instead of owning the land, these farmers tend to it with their community in mind. Instead of using a top-down structure of organization, these farms are cooperative, owned equally by the farmers themselves and the City of Chicago. These are cooperative farms, the new crop of urban agriculture on the South Side.

Far Southeast Side | Nature

Ramping Up at Big Marsh

A Southeast Side slag field reborn

Christopher Good

When you reduce 11599 S. Stony Island to its individual components, it’s simple enough: wood, mulch, concrete, clods of dirt. But the Bike Park at Big Marsh, like any good bike park, is more than the sum of its parts. Since its opening last November, the park’s stairs, ramps, curves, and jumps have become a two-wheeled proving ground—and the only space of its kind on Chicago’s South Side.