Seeds with Stories

The Peterson Garden Project mission is to recruit, educate and inspire a new generation of home and community gardeners who want to gain control of their food supply, grow their own produce organically  and make urban food gardening the norm—not the exception. (And have fun in the process!)

About sixteen months ago one of our leadership team members, Maribeth, who is also a Field Museum employee, mentioned they had been trying to get a community garden at the museum for a number of years. There was already a partner willing to cover some of the costs – Jewell Events Catering – so money wasn’t the issue really. I got the chance to speak to the Greener Field committee about Chicago’s historic role in the WW2 Victory Garden movement and what we were doing with our revival Victory Garden at Peterson and Campbell and it proved to be good timing and the project started to gel…

During a brainstorming session we talked about how gardening would not only be a great community building activity for Field employees but could also relate to the collections of the museum and be appealing to the 650,000 visitors that come to the museum during the growing season (May-October).  That’s how the Edible Treasures Garden was born…

Our idea was that if we focus on the cultural history behind seeds we could highlight the lineage and value of seed diversity as a treasure of equal (if not greater) value to the precious gems and other cultural artifacts in the museum’s collections. Quickly we knew we needed  a partner with the background and resources to tell this story so we engaged Diane Ott Whealy and her team from Seed Saver’s Exchange. The incredible team from Jewell Events Catering was able to close the loop by suggesting food programs that would bring the experience full circle – from seed to plate.

Sixteen months later… we planted the first spring crop at the museum. Diane Ott Whealy joked that she “always recommends sculpture in the garden” as we stood (almost) in the shadow of the giant brachiosaurus statue on the museum’s west side. [Yes, it has been rechristened the “broccolisaurus” by the very same volunteer/Field Musuem employee, Maribeth (in the photo), that helped to get the ball rolling in the first place.]

Our hope is that if just a fraction of the 650,000 summer visitors who may see this garden get excited about growing (and cooking!) their own food and carrying on our cultural legacy we’ve done good toward our mission… and hopefully given a new generation of gardeners an inkling of what a treasure seed diversity really is.

P.S. Diane has a new, awesome book out “Gathering: A Memoir of  a Seed Saver” which talks about the history of the amazing organization she co-founded 35 years ago.