Cara Jennifer Solis, 32, and Jen Martinez, 30, aren’t related by blood. But in this thirsty empty lot, water may be the more important factor these two ladies are bound by—if the city ever turns it back on, that is. The Oak Park residents hold the key to 11,600 square feet of gated potential for good food and good vibes for their neighborhood. For now, the space the girls call Oak Park Sol remains a field of dreams in a preparatory stage—but the revolution to overhaul zoning regulations is underway. SN&R caught up with both women at Old Soul Co. for the lowdown on the project.
Where is this space?
Solis: Broadway and 38th Street, right by the purple Victorian that Kevin Johnson restored.
How new is this venture?
Solis: We got the keys to the gate about a month ago.
Martinez: I’m late jumping on the bandwagon. This was [Solis’] idea. … She showed me [the plot] and told me what she wanted to do with it, and I was like, “I wanna help!” I thought it was a great idea.
Give me some details of your plans for the lot.
Solis: We want it to be a mixture, a space for the whole community in Oak Park, not just sectioned-off plots for fruits and vegetables, but to include things like a barbecue area where people can hang out, maybe a fire pit, learning gardens to teach people how to tend a garden, a children’s area, and a Muslim scented garden in the front. Flowers all around.
A Muslim scented garden?
Solis: Yes, it’s supposed to be a representation of Eden, heaven on Earth, with scents from the four corners of the world. Older versions in history would’ve include canals, but we would incorporate fruit trees, lots of strongly scented flowers, and especially night-blooming types, like jasmine.
Very cool. It doesn’t sound like other community gardens.
Solis: That’s the idea. We have a basic design with the front of the space laid out with markers.
Martinez: We want to make it a place for the Oak Park community specifically, and where you can make use of it how you want to, depending on the time you want to put in.
Solis: It would be nice to hold events at the space, too. It all depends on what happens with the ordinance, on what they are and are not going to end up allowing. The owner and I are just waiting to see where that goes.
You’re leasing the plot?
Solis: Yes, for three years, at least. The owner is Earl Whitcomb. It’s been in his family since the 1930s. … His [dad] owned it; he inherited it. But there’s a possibility of me buying the land moving forward.
So, what’s with the ordinance?
Solis: It’s technically illegal to have a community garden space on a private lot without a building. If there’s no structure.
Solis: Yeah. And it didn’t used to be that way. That’s a law that’s kind of been in the past 10 years or so, I think. There was a meeting in May at the Oak Park Community Center to discuss a change in the zoning aspects of the ordinance to make projects like this allowed, but it’s still an ongoing process.
Do you have a timeline?
Solis: At this point, we’re really waiting on the city to turn on the water. It’s been off since the ’70s because of a leak, and they’re kind of sitting on getting that back on right now. So as soon as that gets turned back on, we can move on to the next phase.
Martinez: We’ve received a lot of plant donations from the farmers [at the Oak Park Farmers Market], and we’re tending to them, but we can’t get anything in the ground just yet without the water.
How are things coming along otherwise?
Solis: We had been going every day until it starting raining, and since then we’ve gotten about a week break. We’ve been cutting branches, we have some of the area tilled. We’ve mainly been clearing trash and pulling weeds. We’ve had some interesting finds. … But mostly lots of broken glass everywhere.
What can be done to help right now?
Martinez: More support, to show that people actually care about community gardens. You know, coming out to the meetings about the ordinance so the city can see the desire to change.
Solis: Volunteers, too. And gardening supplies and tools. We’re not quite at the fundraising stage yet, although we’re kind of looking into grants that are out there for us. But yeah, there’s a definite demand for this space to happen. … Lots of community spaces in the city have waiting lists. We wanna help people in Oak Park specifically, in our own hood, giving them a resource to learn how to grow their own food, to teach sustainability.