Where once there was grass, beds of bare earth speckle Cheryl Vargas’ yard.
But soon an abundant harvest of blueberries, cucumbers and kale will spring from the soil. Enough, Vargas hopes, to feed her and her husband through the winter.
The La Grange resident is on a mission to live a truly sustainable life by growing all the fruits and vegetables she eats—and she wants other locals to join her in the journey.
The group is a way for people interested in the slow food movement, disciples of which grow their own food, to share knowledge, swap seeds and trade labor in each other’s gardens.
“I guess I felt alone in my pursuit of buying food that’s local, buying food that’s clean,” Vargas said.
Growing produce yourself, Vargas said, takes the guesswork out of whether it’s genetically modified and is a lot cheaper than buying organic.
It is, however, time consuming. Vargas created La Grange Foods Not Lawns to also serve as a conduit to connect people who are interested in co-gardening.
One person will say she’s free to help in a neighbor’s yard for four hours on Saturday, for example, while another will return the favor a few days later.
“It’s a cooperative relationship that relies on trust and a handshake,” Vargas said. “When you have that (interest) in common, people are pretty true to their words, so you don’t need to worry about people backing out.”
Members share their varying knowledge base for the benefit of the group. One woman is known as the “Compost Queen” for her expertise in fertilizer, while another man leads the way in hydroponics, the process of growing plants in water rather than soil. The plants in his home sit above a pool of water swimming with live tilapia, whose waste fertilizes the crop.
The group also goes on outings to events such as vegetarian cooking classes and primers on herb gardening. They’ll be taking part in the March against Monsanto Saturday at Federal Plaza in Chicago.
“It’s just coming along a little bit at a time,” Vargas said. “It’s interesting and it gives people an opportunity who are really environmentally aware to interact with people who think the same way.”
Vargas avoids all processed food, but she didn’t always. She decided to dedicate herself to the slow food movement after an afternoon spent watching documentaries such as Food Inc. with her grandchildren.
“I came out of that completely educated to the point that there was no way I was going to eat certain foods,” she said.
A former event planner, Vargas is now studying horticulture at the College of DuPage in the hopes of one day taking her message to a larger audience.
“I try to do it really nicely without preaching to people too much,” she said. “You have to come from the point of view that this could help you or someone you love. You keep plugging away and hope you reach a few people. And I have.”