[This text was originally published in AREA Chicago #1 in August 2005]
by Nance Klehm
Little Village is a neighborhood of 90,000 people in 4 square miles. Low density housing of single family homes and buildings with 3-4 units occupied by extended families. La Villita is mostly culturally Mexican and low income. It has the least amount of open space in the city; the main shopping district, however, along 26th street, has the second highest tax base after Michigan Avenue.
Even without open green space–if not because of the lack of it–there is a high level of street traffic that allows for informal gathering and conversations. Resourcefulness and practicality spur a large informal economy fueled by simple exchange. Most in the immigrant community have a strong connection to and knowledge of land, and a skill set more localized in themselves.
Neighborhood Orchard started when Trevino, who lives three houses down from me, refused to take money for jerryrigging my ancient furnace. Instead of paying me, he asked me to plant him an apple tree in exchange for the work he completed. “Yes! Yes! Yes!” I replied.
Two years later, Neighborhood Orchard is a loosely organized scattered 3/4 acres of growing in Little Village yards and three satellite sites. One of the sites is a water collection/composting site. Some yards are more intensely planted than others, as most backyards are multi-used for recreation and other informal economy: car mechanics, food preparation, scrap storage.