I’ve lived in the same West Town three-flat for more than ten years and, like anyone who stands still that long in the city, I’ve seen the neighborhood change radically around me. Some of it’s been for the better, some of it for the worse, but few upheavals bummed me out more than when the crumbling cottage next door was sold to a developer and my neighbor Nance Klehm had to move. An urban gardener, artist, and landscape designer, Nance and her lush backyard were a generous source of fresh herbs and monster zucchini, and one of my favorite summertime memories is still of the day in the mid-90s when a friend who worked for the Heifer Project showed up to leave a half-dozen fuzzy ducklings in Nance’s foster care — the friend’s boyfriend having had it up to here, apparently, with his bathtub doubling as a duck nursery.
In the intervening years Nance’s had her hand in various projects, all investigations of the wilder side of urban ecology. She’s led foraging tours, created a seed bank, and started a “neighborhood orchard” in Little Village. In 2004 she planted a shopping cart with corn and enlisted people to push it across Chicago for the summer. For the “Urban, Rural, Wild” exhibit at I Space last year she set up a rack of garments, their pockets full of seeds, and urged gallery drifters to put them on, go outside, and scatter seeds around the neighborhood.
Lately she’s gotten into fermentation: she says her piece Host: Colony, part of “Negotiated Localities,” a group show opening Friday at the SAIC’s Betty Rymer Gallery, is “all about wild yeast, literally and metaphorically.” In conjunction with the exhibit she’s offering three free workshops this month on making bread (11/16), pickles (11/19), and mead (11/29). All three classes are from 6 to 9 PM in the second-floor kitchen of the J. Ira and Nikki Harris International Hostel, 24 E. Congress Parkway. Enrollment’s limited to 20 people per class; register by calling 773-443-3703.