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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 or call (773) 610-6871.

Though my gardening is confined to my apartment's backporch and kitchen windowsill, I enjoy gardening as much as I can. I like watching things grow, I get pleasure from picking something and immediately using it, whether it's basil in pasta sauce, a tomato in a sandwich or arugula in a homemade pizza. Because of my work schedule, I sometimes get home at 9 a.m., and other times I'll wake up mid-morning but won't need to be at work until early afternoon, so I'll make my coffee, then water and check on the various vegetables growing outside my back window.

There's only one problem, though. I have a black thumb. A thumb of death. I am the Grim Reaper of gardeners. As much as I like being around plants and being able to grow flowers and veggies, I don't have much success when it comes to being able to grow said plants to adulthood, without them withering on the vine (if they get that far) first. In spite of that, though, I've had astoundingly good luck with basil. Whether I've purchased basil that's already started to grow or just gotten a packet of seeds, whether it's in a small container on my windowsill or in a large pot on the porch, I've got a knack for growing basil.

Which presents another problem. I just can't eat basil as fast as I can grow it (adding to that is the basil that sometimes arrives at my home from my other half's weekly ration box of veggies from a local community-supported farm). You can only make so much pasta sauce, pesto and pizza.

So what to do with all of this basil? I posed that question on my Facebook page recently, and among the suggestions I got, from one of my former City News editors, Kim Kishbaugh, was to make a slurry.

Slurry? Basil Slurry? Sounds like the name of a character from a British sketch comedy show from the 1970s, a la some sort of a Foster Brooks with a bowler and mustache and a voice like James Mason. But enough comic digression.

The Webcams are coming! The Webcams are coming!

During her cooking demo at the recent National Restaurant Association show, Stephanie Izard shared this interesting tidbit: She plans on installing a live Webcam to show the build-out of her restaurant, The Drunken Goat (expected to land in the West Loop in December or January).

After the restaurant opens, Izard says she'll keep the Webcam up in the kitchen so that diners can watch the chefs in action. (She admits she may have to tone down the back-of-house cursing, however).

Sarah Stegner of Northbrook's Prairie Grass Café, meanwhile, has a Webcam set up in her backyard garden.

Stegner (that's her below, with her husband, Rohit Nambiar, and co-chef George Bumbaris) is keeping it up all summer long as a sort of inspiration to home gardeners. She also is tracking her garden's progress on Facebook. It's kind of like watching grass grow -- wait, it's exactly like watching grass grow! -- but still, pretty cool.

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Had it not been for one unattractive, hot tar paper roof, Merrill Smith's bright idea -- a portable garden called the Green Box -- might never have bloomed.

Smith, an avid gardener (she was part of our story on container gardens), moved from the burbs to Lincoln Park five years ago, trading her backyard vegetable garden for access to the aforementioned tar papered rooftop. Instead of giving up her green thumb, she went about trying to figure out how to make the space work for her.

"I read about a guy building these big salad tables, about six feet long. I had a friend make one of those for me. Then I started kicking around the idea of just how I could make it more portable," Smith says.

As she tweaked the design, she pitched her idea to the nonprofit Resource Center, which operates City Farm, just down the road from the Cabrini-Green housing projects. The farm bit. "And then I became this junkyard dog," Smith says, trolling Dumpsters for lumber.

The two-by-three-foot Green Box -- Smith builds these with her own hands, people! (her 16-year-old son helps) -- is made solely of recycled or repurposed materials, including old crib slats. It comes with a burlap bag of City Farm compost, red and green lettuce seeds and directions.

It, Smith says, will not fail even the most novice gardener.

"This really is the closest thing to instant gratification in vegetable gardening," she says.

The Green Box makes its debut from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday at City Farm, 1204 N. Clybourn. Smith will be there, shoveling compost and showing people how the thing works. A box costs $75, $50 of which goes back to the farm and the Resource Center. RSVP:

About the blog

Janet Rausa Fuller

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



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