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Photography by Andreas Larsson
Despite this city’s industrial heritage, its dirt and grit and grime, despite the staunch car owners who won’t relinquish their keys, Chicago has sprouted green. Mayor Daley and city bureaucrats deserve credit for pushing for new environmentally sensitive building standards, a remarkable endeavor for a major U.S. metropolis. Altruistic CEOs, park planners, the design community, and nonprofits have also made a considerable mark.
But environmentalism’s unsung heroes are the ordinary citizens who are taking novel ideas and putting them in motion. For the first of what we envision as an annual tribute, we recognize eight Chicagoans who are pioneering ways to ease human impact on the earth-and helping make Chicago the birthplace of a cleaner, smarter kind of progress.
Abby Mandel, Green City Market
A carrot certified as organic may be free of chemical pesticides; but a carrot that has been sustainably grown is part of an agricultural process that respects the environment-from protecting the topsoil and groundwater to saving on fuel because the veggie came from a farm nearby. This distinction, says Abby Mandel, the founder of Chicago’s Green City Market, is what makes her market so very different from the myriad others in town and, for that matter, from Whole Foods.
Now in its ninth year, Green City operates Wednesdays and Saturdays from May to October at the southern end of Lincoln Park, then moves north to the Notebaert Nature Museum through December. Tireless and exuberantly twinkly-eyed, Mandel, who is 74, has smartly enlisted famous local chefs such as Paul Kahan, Rick Bayless, Bruce Sherman, and Sarah Stegner to conduct live cooking demonstrations amidst the tents, putting a chic, gourmet gloss on a rather hippie-ish idea. She seems most proud that her market-which includes just 40 rigorously screened farmers a year-has also become a resource for information on sustainable farming, and she has targeted the I-57 corridor, which runs from Chicago through Champaign to the southern tip of the state, as a food-producing region ripe for development. “Timing is with us,” says Mandel, who hopes to ride today’s green Zeitgeist to the next thing, whatever it may be. “People are waking up.”