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'Feast' production inspires Albany Park community garden

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The curtain soon will close on a little play put on by a group of Albany Park teenagers, but the seeds of something bigger already have been planted.

The Albany Park Theater Project's production of "Feast" -- about how food figures into immigrants' lives -- has inspired the creation of a community vegetable garden in the park where the theater is based.

"Feast" runs through Nov. 13 at the Laura Wiley Theater in Eugene Field Park, 5100 N. Ridgeway.

The site for the proposed garden is in an unused section of the park just beyond the basketball courts, says Shylo Bisnett, president of the Eugene Field Park Advisory Council who with her husband Brian Sobolak is heading the volunteer effort.

The seed money for the garden -- about $1,000 to launch and support the project for two years -- came from ticket sales from a recent performance, says David Feiner, artistic director for the Albany Park Theater Project.

Bisnett and Sobolak are avid backyard gardeners who rented a plot this year at the Peterson Garden Project, another community garden at Peterson and Campbell Avenues (once a World War II victory garden).

The couple longed to bring the concept to Albany Park, where Bisnett says "hidden gardens" are sprinkled throughout.

"Feast" had an initial run in April and May.

"When we decided to bring it back for an encore run this fall, I thought, Wouldn't it be fantastic if we could connect with that garden effort in some way?," says Feiner. He approached Bisnett in August offering to sponsor the effort.

The garden is starting small -- three raised beds (as required by the Chicago Park District) that Bisnett hopes to install by the end of the month.

Next year, "as soon as the ground thaws . . . we will start planting," she says.

The hope, Bisnett says, is to give neighborhood youths an opportunity to learn while literally getting their hands dirty, and to donate the produce to a food pantry.

She envisions the garden as a microcosm of Albany Park. "We want to reflect that same diversity in the garden. Maybe we'll grow an interesting variety of tomatillo, or an unusual herb," she says.

Eventually, Bisnett hopes to add a larger garden divided into plots that residents can claim as their own.

Bisnett welcomes volunteers, donations of tools, organic soil, seeds and plants. For more information, e-mail EugeneFieldPAC@gmail.com or call (773) 610-6871.

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Janet Rausa Fuller

Sun-Times Food editor Janet Rausa Fuller is always thinking about her next meal.

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