Day 3 Again: More Action

While Ali and I were on Iron Street, Julia worked the an organization called Chicago Cares.  They run different volunteer projects throughout the city.  The one she was working on was a community garden on the south side of the city in a neighborhood where about 40 percent of the residents live below the poverty line.  There is no true grocery store in the area, and until very recently, the only place to get food was McDonalds.

This garden is on land donated by a church.  Inside the garden there are 10×10 ft. plots that anyone on the community can use to plant their gardens.  Some of the Girl Scouts were working on creating new plots and getting them ready to plant.  There is a community shed (built out of old church doors) with tools and the group provides seed and can connect you with gardeners to help you get started.  The girls were working on weeding the outside part of the garden, between the garden and the sidewalk.  This section of the garden is maintained by volunteers and anyone walking by is encouraged to take what they need.  They grow different herbs, tomatoes, carrots, peppers and such.

Chicago Cares is starting another section of this garden to help the church’s existing food bank to provide them with fresh fruits and veggies.  One thing that many food banks are missing is fresh produce, since it is hard to store and keep fresh.

I don’t have pictures from Chicago Cares, but hopefully someone will upload some to the flickr site.  There’s not much on their right now, except mine, but we’re spreading the word around the conference about it so there should be more up soon, so check back.

Today is the last day of the conference.  When it all started I thought this would be a long week.  But as always with great experiences, it has flown by and I’m left wishing there were more sessions to go to, more meals to eat with new friends, and more nights to spend not sleeping but strengthening friendships.  I will do a more in depth wrap-up later, but I just wanted to say to anyone who is here, I have loved meeting you and I want to stay connected to you and all the amazing things you and your girls are going to be doing in the coming year and beyond.

Thank you for reading and as always yours in Scouting,
Ana Cristina

Day 3: External Action

Day three was action day. Woo hoo!!

We split up into six groups and took our trusty buses out to different action sites to do service and learn about different programs happening around Chicago. Ali and I went to Iron Street Farm, the Chicago center of an organization called Growing Power. Julia went to a community garden set up by Chicago Cares, an organization that sets up different volunteer opportunities around the city.

I really enjoyed this trip. We arrived and right away started working. We shoveled wood chips, which are “donated” (dropped off) by tree cutting companies, into wheelbarrows and took them to the greenhouses.

Ali and I working hard on Iron Street!

These woodchips are the foundation for the farm. Most of the area they plan on is concrete, so they lay down the woodchips and then soil over top of it to plant on.

Just a small bit of the area we covered

After working for about an hour, we broke for lunch. We took full advantage of the AC on the bus and I had some great conversations with other chaperones and volunteers about working with council on these international and WAGGGS initiatives.  Some councils are establishing a WAGGGS liaison position, and I think that is wonderful.  I hope it becomes commonplace for girls, and adults for that matter, to know what the pins they wear on their uniform represent.

WAGGGS pin that every Girl Scout and Girl Guide wears on her uniform

After lunch, we got a tour of the entire facility at Iron Street.  Our tour guide was Erica, one of the staff members.  She was a really great guide, very knowledgeable about everything they are doing, and she explained it in a way that even I, who know next to nothing about gardening or farming, could understand it.

Our awesome tour guide Erica!

In the picture above, Erica is standing in front of their compost pins.  They are made from repurposed wooden pallets and screens.  They layer woodchips and compost material (food waste minus meat, dairy and bread) in the bins to create the compost for the entire farm.  They get the food waste from restaurants, breweries, and the community at large.

Just a note, I’ve been looking around the Growing Power website and it has a lot of great information on all this stuff if it is something you’d like to learn more about.

Next we went inside to see some the vermiculture.  Vermiculture is pretty much partially decomposed compost with worms in it.  The worms speed up the process by eating and…well, pooping.  They can eat their weight each day, and reproduce fairly quickly.  Again, there is really great info about these worms and the process on their website.

Ali exploring the vermiculture

Next up:  aquaponics.  What?  Yeah, that’s what I said.  Basically, it’s a system where water circulates with a pump from a fish tank on the bottom up to plants on pallets on top.  The pallets are on a small incline, so small that you can’t really tell in the picture, so that the water flows down.

Aquaponics system

The pump just moves the water, it doesn’t need to be cleaned because the fish poo helps fertilize the plants, and the plants clean the water for the fish.  Growing Power then sells the fish and the watercrest (or whatever they grow on top) to help funding.  Here’s a picture of the top, where the watercrest is growing.

Top plant part of the aquaponics

Erica said that aquaponics is very easy to scale up or to scale down.  If you already have fish tank at home you could easily add plants on top, or you could make a system even bigger and raise bigger fish.  At Growing Power they mostly raise tilapia and yellow perch.

Ever heard of a mushroom chandelier?  Well neither had I until I went to Iron Street.  In order to be more space-efficient, Growing Power plants their mushrooms hanging from the ceiling.  They layer mycelium (mushroom “seeds”) and woodchips in bags, then hang them up.  After a while, they cut holes in the bags which the mushrooms (mostly oyster mushrooms) grow out of in bunches.  None were sprouting just then, but here are the chandeliers.

Do you think these would go well in my foyer?

Ever efficient, Iron Street has even used its roof to house six bee colonies.  They produce 150 pounds of honey each year per colony, which they again sell.  They also use the beeswax to make candles and beauty products.

Bees on the roof

So, I would like to say a special thanks to Growing Power for letting us visit and showing us around.  They are a really great organization helping to show that you can grow your own food sustainably anywhere.  I encourage you to check out their website and take a closer look at where the food you eat is coming from.

I’ll write more about Julia’s experience tomorrow, and try and find someone who has pictures of her.

Thank you all for reading, tomorrow I’ll write about International Night which was so awesome, and there will be great pictures.  If you can’t get enough GWF, check out the brand new flickr site, which will hopefully be updated all the time as word gets passed around here that it exists.  Most of my pictures are up there, as well as some from the WAGGGS photographers here.

Don’t forget to comment and subscribe, I love hearing from you!

Yours in Scouting,

Ana Cristina

Day 2 Contiunued: And then it began to rain…

Oh the rain.  I knew it was coming, the sky was starting to cloud over and the wind was picking up.  I have to say that Ali was prepared, she had told us on the bus that she brought her poncho, but Julia and I were both convinced that it wouldn’t rain.  According to my ex-weatherman bus tour guide, Chicago was very close to official drought conditions, and Michigan has been the same for the past few months.  But apparently we had forgotten that we were in the midwest, and even closer to a great lake than normal.

The clouds blew in and the lightning began, and of course, since this is Girl Scouts, we were directed back the the discovery center for shelter.  But, like they have so many times this week already, we the girls took the opportunity to make new friends.  A chaperone taught a game that was a lot like the Sarah Sponda game that I used to play when I was a brownie.  In a circle sitting on the ground, you place your hand on your partners knee and cup it.  Your right hand is your passing hand, and one person has a coin that they pass around from one hand to the next.  Everyone is moving their hands to look like they are passing all the time.  One person sits in the middle and closes their eyes.  Everyone starts moving their hands and when everyone has found their rhythm, the person in the middle opens their eyes.  They have to guess who has the coin, and when they do, that person is now in the middle.  More and more people joined in, and it was a great way to learn names and wait for the storm to pass.

Coin passing game

The storm passed just as quickly as it had come in.  We went back to the pavilions and the girls broke up into groups to discuss what they had learned so far. After some more confusion about who was supposed to go where and an incident with a broken table, they discussed and the chaperones were left to hang out in the back.  These girls are constantly amazing me in so many ways, including their perseverance throughout the very long days.  Even in our general conference days, the chaperones have a lot more break time built in, and our sessions are more free-form (my session just now got out early so I have time to write this) and tend to end early.  The girls are go go go all day long, and while I’m sure they sleep wonderfully every night, they are alert and engaged in all their sessions all the time.

Julia in session at the zoo

After their discussions, we had some more free time.  This time just the three of us headed out, and we realized what a big zoo this is!  There are so many animals to see, there was no way we could see them all, but here are some photos of the ones we did see.

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We met back at the discovery center one last time to get our “goodie bags” (all stuff from Little Brownie Bakers), and load up the buses.  By this time, of course, the rain had started again and the girls and I ran to our bus so as to get the least wet as possible.  I sat next to a girl from Nigeria, who knew Amina, my roommate from Sangam.  I’m pretty sure Amina knows every Girl Guide in Nigeria.  Almost immediately I fell asleep, and stayed that way until we arrived back at the hotel.

That night was a free night, but the girls and I decided to stay in, since we have all seen Chicago before, we had had the bus tour the day before and we were going to Navy Pier later in the week.  Ali and I did go to a really awesome sing along session with Melinda Caroll, the Girl Scout celebrity I mentioned earlier.  I felt a little out of my element, because I can’t carry a tune AT ALL.  I don’t even know what “carry a tune” actually means.  But Girl Scouts is about singing no matter what, and singing loud.  We sang some of our camp favorites and also some girls from other countries shared theirs, mostly from Germany.  Jen (Sangams World Centre Manager) came later after her meeting, and I got to sing Come Into Sangam with Jen, who wrote it, and Melinda.  I could tell it was a dream come true for Jen, and it was a really great moment for everyone who was there.

Ali has some audio of us singing, and I’m planning on making a video about our experience when it’s all over, so I’m sure I will use it for that.  For now, sing your favorite camp song as loudly as you can, and you can join us in that way 🙂

Yours in scouting,

Ana Cristina