As we celebrate the arrival of summer, I want to share with you an experience that for me is a powerful reminder of what a privilege and important responsibility it is to serve the Chicago Botanic Garden.
In July 2005, the Garden was entrusted by the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago with the care of a young maple propagated from a tree that once grew at the Terezin concentration camp in Czechoslovakia. In 1943, a sympathetic guard gave a sapling to a teacher interned there. In addition to the academic lessons the teacher secretly provided to her students, at great risk to herself, she also taught the children to care for the tree, by always giving it a small portion of their own meager water ration. In part because of the values the teacher instilled, the sapling endured, becoming a cherished symbol of life.
Early last month, at the start of a new growing season, I was fortunate enough to witness the dedication of this etz chaim—this tree of life—at the new Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie. The Chicago Botanic Garden staff and I are incredibly moved by the Garden’s role in nurturing this living symbol that will inspire generations beyond ours and remind us of the atrocities that humans have the ability to inflict on each other, while at the same time motivating us to improve the world for the future.
Hope, and a dedication to fostering positive connections between humans and plants, also has inspired the Garden’s work in neighborhoods suffering from a lack of fresh food. The Garden’s Green Youth Farm and Windy City Harvest programs are quickly expanding, most recently with the “People’s Garden” in West Garfield Park. Located near the Garfield Park Conservatory, this fenced and secured site is one of the Windy City Harvest gardens. Recently, volunteers from the USDA Food and Nutrition Office—trained by the Garden—made several garden beds available to the community. This safe and supportive place for growing fresh produce will improve nutrition for at-risk families. It is an exciting addition to the Garden’s community gardening initiatives, which are more important now than ever before.
Thank you for your continued support of the Garden and its scientists, and of the initiatives that make the Chicago Botanic Garden an institution worthy of your support. I invite you to explore www.savetheplants.org. This just-launched website about the Garden’s Plant Conservation Science Initiative was created to help more people become aware of the fact that tens of thousands of plant species are in danger of extinction. The website explains that we rely on plants for everything that sustains life, and that the Garden is committed to addressing plant conservation challenges through research and education.
I look forward to seeing you soon, and to hearing what’s important to you. I hope you will say hello and introduce yourself when you see me walking through the Garden at this wonderful time of year.