From afar, artist, educator, and organizer Jen Delos Reyes seems tireless. She splits her time between Ithaca, New York—where she works at Cornell as an associate professor in the art department and as the inaugural associate dean of diversity and equity for the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning—and Chicago, where she runs Side by Side, a part-time micro-residency for BIPOC arts workers, and Garbage Hill Farm, a small-scale backyard urban farm, both of which are in McKinley Park.
But for Delos Reyes, any project worth doing is worth doing with community. (As her Trunk Show-commissioned bumper sticker read, “Together we do us.”) So it’s worth noting that she cultivated her .22-acre property with the help of numerous volunteers, friends, and neighbors and that the same community is crucial to sustaining the farm, through sales, donations, and a Community Supported Agriculture program.
The farm started just two years ago, but it already boasts a micro-orchard, public berry patch, free seed library, self-harvest mutual aid garden, native prairie, and greenhouse. It’s also home to a flock of chickens and two adorable Nigerian dwarf goats. The project is meant to model “what is possible on a residential lot in an urban center,” but its primary goal is growing food for local food pantries.
Last year, the farm donated more than 500 pounds of food and this year aims to increase that amount. “What I am doing is not revolutionary,” Delos Reyes wrote on her Instagram, noting the popularity of similar “Victory Gardens” during WWII. But modeling an alternative, sustainable, communal way of life is one small part of the revolution.
Best of Chicago 2022 is presented by