New Member Spotlight: Rooted Self Expression Center

Jack Wangelin - Friday, July 25, 2014
Rooted Self Expression Center Logo 
Shruti Sekhri, founder of Rooted Self Expression Center has concocted a wondrous idea that people need a break from the rigmarole of their busy city life to take a look & explore themselves from a completely new angle. Rooted provides a space for that exploration, focused on centering one's self & retreating from the daily grind.

We had a bit of difficulty understanding it fully before reading about how Shruti decided to step out of the usual 9-5 and found comfort and a better quality of life in self-expression. Read her story for yourself and help Shruti put the finishing touches on her vision by giving to the Rooted Self Expression Kickstarter.

Briefly describe your business and introduce yourself. 
Rooted is a Self Expression Center  that offers experiential classes and workshops using various creative activities and art forms (art, music, dance/movement, acting/improvisation, speaking, and writing) to allow people to connect to themselves and others in a non-judgment, free-to-be-yourself environment.

Where did you get the inspiration to open your business? 
Rooted came about during a personal, dig-deep journey for Shruti Sekhri, its founder. In her own words:
‘Even though I’m a perfection-seeking businesswoman, I took the risk to venture into acting and fell in love with it. It made me feel whole and emotionally connected in a way that was woefully missing in my life. A few months after falling for acting, I had an awful performance and my perfection demons started roaring! I beat myself up and couldn’t sleep all night. It was such a tough experience, that I knew I didn’t want to repeat it again. So I immediately signed up for a week long ‘Living Centered’ program in Nashville.

This program deeply affected me. It was full of experiential activities that helped me see myself. I didn’t get lectured at or have to learn any new philosophy; I just had to trust the process – however it unfolded for me. I was really able to go deep into myself and start to listen to myself like I never had before. I also began connecting to a real desire to help people go deeper in life – honestly, a little selfishly because I want to connect to those people.
All of a sudden, every self-help book, every retreat, every workshop, had a double meaning to me: what it held for me and what it could be for other people. I became fully connected to my pursuit, but had no idea how to put all of this new information into creating something meaningful. Until, one morning when I was very frustrated, I got attached to the idea of blasting techno music. I don’t normally listen to techno, but I went with my instinct, blasted it and started to do yoga. Immediately, I felt relief. I didn’t learn ‘techno yoga’ anywhere; I created it from instinct. I expressed my frustration with music and my physicality and I did it without any expectations of what I should be doing or feeling. It set me free and it immediately made me think of how creative work can do this for others too. The more I thought about it, the more Rooted began to take shape.

I’m telling you this story in the first person because I want you to know that I’m putting my heart and soul out there to be seen through this Center. It won’t be perfect, but I hope that it’s a place where a community of people comes together and lets self-discoveries and self- nurturing run amok.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned as a business owner?
So far, it’s all about having a clear vision and ensuring that it can be communicated clearly. 

What advice would you give to someone looking to start a business in Chicago? 
Right now, I’m looking for advice.

What product or service of yours are you the most excited about offering? 
I’m really excited about offering the Rooted Series.  It’s a class that allows participants to form a bond over a 6-week period doing a variety of artistic activities like art, movement, music, writing, and acting/improv.  No one has to know how to do any of it and they will be in the same boat trying to experience the process without judgment and expectations.  

What do you like the most about being located in Wicker Park Bucktown?
Wicker Park/Bucktown is full of open-minded people who are open to taking care of themselves.  This neighborhood has a vibe of acceptance of all different types of folks – artists, business people, stay at home parents.  I’ve lived here for over 12 years and truly feel connected to the diversity.

What kind of people are your customers?
Rooted is focused on serving adults of any age, any gender, any background. Let’s be clear – you do not have to be an artist or experienced at any art form to feel the richness at Rooted.
This place is for you if you are…
Struggling under the weight of everyone else’s expectations and need some space to be free
Feeling stressed out
Seeking genuine connection
Wanting to be part of a community
Creatively stuck
Feeling stuck in a daily rut and need a change
Looking to explore new ways to get more out of life
Looking to find your path in life – to figure out what you are passionate about
Willing to push yourself out of the comfort zone
Just feeling curious about this place
Wanting to take care of your soul

What can people expect when they walk in your front door?
To be accepted as they are… there are no expectations of any skill or putting up any image for the benefit of others. 

Thank you Shruti for taking time to let us learn a bit more about you & your business. We are looking forward to working with you & seeing  you at our upcoming Chamber Events.

New Member Spotlight: Cafe Creme

Jack Wangelin - Thursday, June 26, 2014
Cafe Creme Logo
Cafe Creme Front

Cafe Creme is one of the WPB Chamber's newest members, & having opened their doors less than two weeks ago, we are scheming to create time to go for a visit. Stephan and Nicole Outrequin Quaisser, founders of the LM Restaurant group & operators of Cafe Creme have been kind enough to give us a glimpse into the concept & story behind Cafe Creme.

Visit Cafe Creme at 1721 N Damen Ave. The Cafe Creme bakery is open 7am - 7pm daily; the Cafe, until 3pm, daily.

Briefly describe your business and introduce yourself.

Stephan and Nicole founded LM Restaurant group in 2009. What started as a single concept, named after our two children, Luc and Mary, LM Restaurant Group is now the unifying force behind Bistronomic, Brasserie by LM, The Brixton, Cafe Creme, Troquet River North and LM Catering. Our restaurants aim to provide a true French dining experience in Chicago and showcase real French cuisine in an approachable way. 

Cafe Creme is our newest concept. The bakery and café brings freshly made French pastries and baguettes as well as seasonal fare to the Bucktown neighborhood. We’re open 7 days a week serving breakfast, lunch and weekend brunch and offer patrons a unique place to pick up traditional French macarons or to enjoy a sit down meal with friends.

Baguettes & Such
Where did you get the inspiration to open your business? 

Both of us grew up in restaurants. Nicole’s family owned and managed several restaurants in her hometown of Hamburg, Germany and Stephan’s parent’s owned traditional brasseries in Normandy, France where he was born and raised. Both of us made a career out of working in hospitality and after a while opening a place of our own seemed like the right choice. We opened the first restaurant in 2009 and never looked back. 

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned as a business owner?

Don’t panic! But on a serious note, the most important thing we’ve learned as business owners is that each restaurant needs to be a part of the community. Our restaurants are all located in different and very unique Chicago neighborhoods and we make it a priority to be involved and to make sure that the restaurant adapts to the neighborhood. The first thing we do when we open a new concept is to join the Chamber of Commerce-it ensures that we get off on the right foot. 

What product or service of yours are you the most excited about offering? 
Tasty Tomato Soup

We’re pretty excited about the opening of Cafe Creme. It’s a totally different concept from anything we’ve ever done before, having a retail bakery as well as the cafe. The French pastries and bread coming out of the bakery are truly authentic and very fresh so we’re happy that we can offer that to customers. Also, the food at the cafe is delicious. Our chef, Matt DuBois, put a lot of thought into creating a very approachable and seasonal, French inspired menu. 

What do you like the most about being located in Wicker Park Bucktown? 

We’re so excited to be here in the Wicker Park Bucktown neighborhood. The residents and other business owners in the area really make this a great place to be operating a restaurant. We’ve received such a warm welcome from everyone and in the short time we’ve been open we’ve already begun to develop relationships with regulars. We look forward to serving this community for years to come!

Thank you Stephan & Nicole for taking the time to share with us.

All photography by Jason Hinkle 2014

New Member Spotlight: Second City Insider

Jack Wangelin - Tuesday, June 24, 2014
2nd City Insider Logo

Wicker Park has become a proving ground for local start-ups, many of which are pushing various digital marketing tools. One of our very own WPB Members, Second City Insider has breached the bunch with a clean & dead simple customer rewards program. Your customers don't have to deal with an app or lose a punch card & you get full control of you rewards & direct contact to create & maintain return customers.

Francis Kestler has just made the move to open business, so you will likely see him around the neighborhood, checking in with his customers & making sure business is booming. You may also know Francis as BlueJacket Financial, & otherwise as a long time member & supporter of the Chamber. 

We were lucky enough to get a few words from Francis before he had to get back out & hit the pavement:

Briefly describe your business and introduce yourself. 

Our technology designs Loyalty and Mobile rewards for customers on behalf of merchants. With our technology merchants can rewards their customers by getting them to come back more frequently, touch base with customers who haven’t been returned in a while and also generating new businesses. We also do push marketing via text messaging.

Where did you get the inspiration to open your business?

Working with merchants in my area.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned as a business owner?

You can never get back your time – so make it count!

What advice would you give to someone looking to start a business in Chicago?

Kind of advice for all businesses, are you looking to save money or make money?  

What product or service of yours are you the most excited about offering?

The push marketing via text messaging as well as no punchcards, apps or QC codes. 

What do you like the most about being located in Wicker Park Bucktown?

I live in the area.

What are the places in Wicker Park Bucktown that you cannot live without?

Nando’s Trattoria, Via Carducci, Leona’s, Joe’s Wine Shop.  Great restaurants and locales.

What kind of people are your customers?

Merchants, all local business merchants 

What can people expect when they walk in your front door?
Great customer service and no pushy sales effort. Either it works or it doesn’t for merchant.

10.  Do you have a great story about your business that you’d like to share?

Recently we installed our first tablet/kiosk in a large restaurant location and they love it.

Do you have any stories of successful cross-promotions that you have done with other local businesses? 

My business just started at beginning of June, so not much cross promotion yet. 

12.  What ways has the Chamber been helpful to building your business?

Contacts and support.

Interested in learing more about 2nd City Insider & how Francis may be able to help you? Look for him to chat at one of our upcoming Chamber Mixers or shoot him an email.

Holy Trinity High School Service Day

Jack Wangelin - Thursday, April 10, 2014
HTHS Service Day

Holy Trinity High School is in the midst of planning our annual Service Day during which the entire student body is deployed to sites across the city to do service projects for various charities and businesses.


This event is a community-building event for the students at Holy Trinity, and it benefits many community organizations.  Each year we get feedback from the organizations we help praising our students’ efforts and thanking us for helping with jobs that might not have otherwise been done.  

Jose Alatorre, Director of Group Services at Northwestern Settlement House said of last year’s service day group“Holy Trinity students and chaperones did a great job.  Settlement staff that worked with them commented to me on their diligence and positive attitudes….”

HTHS Service Students

Service Day student groups consist of 10-15 kids who go to sites like the Greater Chicago Food Depository, St. Helen School, The Polish Museum, Franciscan Outreach, and more.  The event is on the morning of Friday, May 2nd, with work taking place from 9:00am to 12:00pm.  We are looking for charities or businesses that have a job for the students during that time.  

Jobs typically range from things like filing and clean-up to packaging food for needy families to reading to preschool children.  Groups are chaperoned by HT staff and are willing to do spring cleaning, office tasks, shelf stocking, store room organizing, landscaping, and more.

Anyone interested in having a group help at their business should contact the school by April 25 by calling 773-278-4212, via e-mail at, or by filling out the HTHS Service Day Interest Form.

The End Is Nothing, The Road is All: A Nelson Algren Documentary

Jack Wangelin - Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Nelson Algren: The End Is Nothing, the Road Is All

A documentary on the life of Nelson Algren, the literary figure of local infamy; produced by local studio, Bullet Proof Film.

Bullet Proof Film Logo
Bullet Proof Film Inc.

Chicago’s Wicker Park is home to Bullet Proof Film, a full service production company and producer of award winning documentaries whose work has been distributed world wide airing on PBS, ARTE France, Link TV and the History Channel. It is also the site of esteemed writer Nelson Algren’s most evocative and influential work. So, it seems fitting that former Wicker Park resident and award winning filmaker Denis Mueller and filmmaker Mark Blottner have joined with Ilko Davidov of Bullet Proof Film to produce the definitive documentary on the life and work of Nelson Algren.

Nelson Algren: The End is Nothing, the Road is All is a feature length documentary film about one of America’s most important -- yet underappreciated and unjustly forgotten authors. The film deftly evokes the atmosphere of 1950’s Wicker Park/Chicago, the perfect setting to revisit, through Algren’s signature writings, issues that are still very relevant today - government surveillance, social and political activism, the excesses of a materialistic society, and the role of the artist in it.

The soulful notes of jazz great Oscar Pettiford, performed by long time Bucktown musician Richie Pardo, provide an emotional chiaroscuro to Algren’s flailing, tragic battles with the city of Chicago, his critics, the FBI, too many women - most famously Simone de Beauvoir, and ultimately, himself.

We are seeking support for this project from those who are closest to it. To Algren, Chicago and Wicker Park were more than just places to live and work, they were characters that came alive through his writing, they were like family. And so, we too are part of the “Algren family” and have been working for over a decade to finish and bring this film home, to Chicago, where it belongs. 

Our Indigogo campaign is drawing to a close.  We are within reach of our goal. Your help can make this amazing story of Wicker Park’s most illustrious writer, a reality. Please donate what you can, today.

"The End Is Nothing, the Road Is All" LINKS:


The Film's Website 




A big thank you to Ilko Davidov, Carmine Cervi, & Bullet Proof Film, Inc. for bringing WPB a fantastic biopic on Nelson Algren, and for writing this post to help get the word out.

Member Spotlight: Canine Crews

Jack Wangelin - Monday, March 31, 2014
Canine Crews Logo

Canine Crews is a perfect fit for the dog-loving WPB Negihborhdood. They offer over 3,500 square paws (or 7,000 square feet for you humans) of indoor play space, a separate small dog playroom, outside yard and over 50 boarding suites of various sizes. Catherine Crews is the owner & founder of Canine Crews; You're a dog lover, you want a dog lover taking care of your pup, even after this short introduction, you will know that Catherine & Canine Crews is dedicated to the dogs.

Briefly describe your business and introduce yourself. 

Catherine Crews

Hi, I'm Catherine Crews and I graduated from the University of Arkansas with BA in History and in Art with a minor in Biology. I have lived in Chicago since 1999 and I bring a passion for animals along with the knowledge of running a small business. In my former life, I worked over 12 years in the metal industry. The last 10 years were with a company under 15 employees; building the work ethic and patience required in working with dogs - oh, and people! 

Canine Crews offers four rooms, 12,000 square feet of total indoor space, as well as a large, fenced outdoor space. Daycare is broken into groups by size, temperament and age; allowing dogs to exercise and socialize in a way that is natural to their pack mentality. Your furry friend will come home relaxed and happy and you will experience a better behaved dog.  Canine Crews offers all you could need in pet care: daycare, boarding, dog walks, pet sitting, dog bus, grooming and retail!


You must have a huge heart for dogs!   

Growing up, I was that kid who brought every animal home to save. I had dogs, fish, cats, birds, snakes and a white mouse I unsuccessfully tried to hide from my mother. In college, while on a trip to Eureka Springs, Arkansas, I fell head over heels for a little fluff-ball that was the runt of a litter. I adopted my dog, Barney, from the local humane society that day. It was possibly the most transient point of my life, but we somehow survived my college years (thanks to a lot of dog-sitting from my parents). Barney came with me to St. Louis and then to Chicago where he lived to be almost 16 years old! He would have loved to come to Canine Crews but I lost him in February 2009!  In the spring of 2011, a new dog decided to waltz into my life and has trained me very well. Carlos (Fu Man) has become an integral part of my world as well as buddy to the staff of Canine Crews. He's a 12 pound mess of Schipperke & Poodle with a bit of Pomeranian thrown in for some fancy prancing. I call him a Schipper-Doodle but others call him Fancy Pants or Fu Man!

What made you decide to turn your love of dogs into a business? 

The opportunity!  I was toying around with ways I could use my knowledge outside of non-profit rescue work and when a friend mentioned this building, I just couldn't pass up the opportunity to give it a try.  I spent every waking moment educating myself on the industry and studying my target demographic in WPB to find out how I could make this business a success.  It was a whirlwind of time spent between the library, online and utilizing the SBA SCORE program for my business plan and financials but it all boiled down to the fact that I just KNEW I could do this and that I would be providing a great service to our neighborhoods while facilitating my love for happy, healthy animals.

What new products and services are you most excited about offering? 

Our pet boutique has grown from a small corner in the facility's lobby to a thriving retail resource for pets and pet owners!  We've put together a carefully curated selection of food, treats, toys, and event clothing, all with an eye toward healthy and happy pets.  

Speaking of happy and healthy pets, I am also super jazzed for our debut Pet Health Expo taking place on Sunday April 27th 2014 in the large upstairs space at Canine Crews, with over 6,000 square feet of space for attendees and vendors.The event is being sponsored and co-promoted by Canine Crews, Chicago Canine Concierge, One Tail at a Time and Alive Rescue, and we plan to showcase a slew of services and products related to the health and well-being of today's pets. Companies offering healthy food, vitamins and supplements, dog training, and veterinary care will be on premise to answer questions, hand out samples, and help pet owners make the best choices for their pet's care.  

During all my free time, I am also creating and launching a puppy program which launches in spring 2014.  It's definitely busy at Canine Crews!

What advice you you give anyone looking to go into the pet care industry?

Do your research and invest in training for you and your staff.  I spend hours every week studying animal behavior, natural foods and supplements and reviewing video of my staff to ensure we are providing the best care for our pups. Working with animals brings a ton of surprises and emergency situations and the better educated you are, the better you are able to handle. We use many professional training programs and I also am a certified instructor through PetTech for Pet First Aid and CPR; these are just a few of the large investments I have made over the years in me and my staff.  

Pet Care is a service industry and your biggest challenge is not the pets, it's your staff.  My secret?  Monthly staff meetings. One of my favorite parts of being the BOSS is that I get to help train and mold young adults into great employees and caring souls.  Nothing is better than an engaged staff that is excited about the progress a dog has made or a new program we are rolling out.  You should see them get excited about their new Pet First Aid/CPR patches - they can't wait to put them on their company sweatshirts!

What are your favorite dog-friendly spots in WPB?

Wow...there are so many!  WPB is such a dog-friendly place that I truly enjoy meeting friends and walking our pups around.  There are tons of restaurants where you can stop and get a drink or a bite to eat on the patio and lots of retail stores have water and treats (and Carlos knows them all)!  I like the shade of Penny's Noodles and Club Lucky for a great Friday afternoon sip. There are excellent dog parks that are well-maintained and tons of dog-friendly stores all around. WPB is truly one of the best places in the city for our four-legged babies.

Low Inventory Causes Market to Favor Sellers In Real Estate

Jack Wangelin - Monday, March 24, 2014

The Real Estate Concierge

A new real estate market blog series from Betancourt Realty

Low Inventory Causes Market To Favor Sellers In Real Estate 

Recently, the real estate market has been on a slow and steady incline. However, the newest obstacle in a full recovery appears to be the lack in inventory. “The lack of inventory is a big obstacle for the housing market right now,” says Jed Smith, managing director of quantitative research for the National Association of Realtors. 
Inventory is being reported at 18% lower than it was in 2013. As a result of this lack in inventory, the market is temporarily becoming one favoring the seller.  It is matter of supply and demand. The less homes that are available translates to the prices of homes continuing to rise. Sellers are taking full advantage of the current state of the market and increasing the sales price of their homes.    According to Smith, a normal housing market brings about 1.5 million new housing starts a year, but only around 800,000 new homes hit the market last year, meaning supply is not keeping up with demand. 

“The Great Recession forced many of the smaller builders to go out of business because they didn’t have access to the credit market and those builders tend to make up about 50% of new home construction.”

The National Association of Realtors reported housing inventory fell 9.3% at the end of December, to 1.86 million available homes, which is about a 4.6 month supply at the current sales pace. According to Smith, a normal market has about a six-to-seven-month supply available. Existing homes, are now the driving force behind inventory levels with previously-owned homes selling more than 10-to-1 to new homes. Smith also states that the number of days a home sat on the market in December 2013 jumped to 72 from 56. However, he suggests that this particular increase may be due to the cold weather.

While much of this may sound like good news for current sellers, what this lack in inventory means for potential home buyers is possibly being faced with exorbitant prices for homes. However, it is not time to panic just yet. Some suggestions for potential home buyers in this market is to start your house hunting early. Starting as early as possible will put you in a better position in a market that is not presenting a mass amount of choices. Refer to a knowledgable real estate agent. Also, consider expanding the area you would like your desired home to be in. Lastly, be very realistic about the type of home you are in the market for. Determine what factors are an absolute necessity versus those that are negotiable.   


This post was written by Betancourt Realty for the educaction & benefit of the WPB Chamber, it's members & those otherwise interested in today's real estate market. We warmly thank Betancourt & welcome the monthly post, keeping us updated on all things real estate. 

New Member Spotlight: Inkway Printing

Jack Wangelin - Monday, March 03, 2014
Inkway Printing
Inkway Printing & Promotional Products has recently joined the WPB Chamber. As one of WPBs growing numbers of digital storefronts, let's give Inkways Printing a warm welcome to the Chamber, & get to know a bit more about Inkway & its founder, Matt Northam.

Matt Northam - Inkway Printing Briefly describe your business and introduce yourself.
Hello! My name is Matt Northam and I started Inkway Printing & Promotional Products LLC in March of 2013. I grew up in the western suburbs of Chicago & have been living in the Bucktown/Wicker Park neighborhood for the past 5 years.

Inkway Printing & Promotional Products specializes in business printing & personalized promotional products. We distribute items like business cards, calendars, banners, pens, drinkware, custom apparel & thousands of other products!

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned as a business owner?
To not fall behind with the accounting.  I’ve never been interested in the numbers side of the business so it was something I would procrastinate doing.  By putting it off, I ended up wasting more time & money when I could have been out trying to earn more business.

What advice would you give to someone looking to start a business in Chicago
Do your research and ask a lot of questions. If you have a well thought out idea and business strategy, go for it! You don’t have to reinvent to wheel to have a successful business in Chicago. 

What product or service of yours are you the most excited about offering? 
There are a lot of cool IT products that we offer for your mobile, tablet & computer devices that you can personalize with your brand or business logo.  Items like custom gel skins for your cell phones/tablets or mini power banks/portable chargers which make great gifts to clients.

What do you like the most about being located in Wicker Park Bucktown? 
I love the atmosphere of Bucktown/Wicker Park. You don’t have to worry about the hustle and bustle of downtown & the neighborhood isn’t condensed to where you feel like you’re living on top of one another.  The bars/restaurants are excellent too!

What are the places in Wicker Park Bucktown that you cannot live without? 
Since I don’t have an actual store front, I find myself getting a lot of work done at Filter Café. I could probably stay there for 24 hours straight if they allowed me.  Lucia’s on North Ave. has the best meatball subs in Chicago. Delicious!

New Member Spotlight: Wastemaster

Jack Wangelin - Tuesday, February 04, 2014
Wastemasters Logo

Wastemaster has just joined the Wicker Park Bucktown Chamber's membership. The owner, Mark Lestina, is hoping to bring a new set of tools to the businesses in the WPB area. Let's get to know Mark a bit better, and what Wastemaster is bringing to the proverbial table.

Mark Lestina;

My name is Mark Lestina and I am the owner of Wastemaster, Corp. I’ve been in the waste and recycling business for over 20 years and today as a small business entrepreneur, I am drawing off of my experience working for several large waste disposal companies.

Wastemaster is an online resource for business owners who want to reduce their waste disposal and recycling costs. Using a proprietary database application, we offer our customers easy access to local pricing information that would be time-consuming to assemble. Wastemaster’s savings program creates greater competition among waste haulers and potentially lowers your costs. 

Where did you get the inspiration to open your business? 

Years ago, the City of Chicago conducted a waste disposal pricing study of small businesses and found that in the same neighborhood, business owners pay a wide range of prices for trash hauling services. For example, a retail store on Damen may pay twice as much when compared to another retail store across the street. The reasons for this disparity are many but in general, businesses have a tremendous opportunity to reduce their costs. Wastemaster brings transparency to this pricing problem and helps its customers lower their disposal costs. 

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned as a business owner? 

Nothing comes easy! There is no silver bullet for any business issue I’ve faced. Passion and hard-work are the two extremely important components necessary for any business owner to succeed. 

What advice would you give to someone looking to start a business in Chicago? 

Don’t start your business unless you have passion for what you do. It sounds clichéd but when you start your business, it becomes part of your life and if you lack the passion for your product or service, you are going to have a miserable life. 

What product or service of yours are you the most excited about offering? 

Our service is pretty simple. We analyze waste disposal pricing data and we help negotiate better rates with various garbage companies on behalf of our customers. It’s exciting to see the look on the face of an owner who has just realized he/she just improved their financial bottom line. I can relate to this feeling because I’m a business owner just like they are and we all share the same feelings. 

What do you like the most about being located in Wicker Park Bucktown? 

The WPB neighborhood is where I raised kids, shopped, dined and experienced the best of Chicago. There are other great neighborhoods in Chicago but WPB is clearly one of the best. 

What kind of people are your customers? 

Simple. Any business owner who wants to find a way to reduce the cost of trash disposal. We make it easy. 

The Farmessori: Near North Montessori School's Urban Farm

Jack Wangelin - Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Wicker Park's Near North Montessori School 

(NNMS) has an urban garden, named the Farmessori, on Wood Street. The school uses the space as an outdoor classroom where students learn not only about growing vegetables but also about botany, ecology, and food systems. And since the students bring much of the food grown back to the school to be used in the student-run Sandwich Shoppe, they also learn about microeconomies, nutrition, collaboration and much more.

This fall the garden received a few new residents: two chickens were brought in and will be keeping the Farmessori bees company and NNMS hired a new farm coordinator, Joe Phillips. Here we meet Joe and learn more about his goals for this amazing space.

Near North Montessori School

 Hi Joe. What are the origins of the Farmessori? Where do you want it to go?

We're quite lucky to have a farm at all. The property is actually three city lots that were donated to us by a family whose grandchildren were students at Near North Montessori School. I've met them and they are just as passionate about urban farming as we are. It's really an incredible partnership. The first couple of years entailed a lot of hard work getting the land ready for farming. Now it's a healthy and thriving ecosystem - so many birds and insects buzzing there all the time. Our honey bees, for whom we built multiple hives, love it there.

I am also working closely with Jamee Warrenfeltz, our Sandwich Shoppe Teacher, to strengthen the connection that our meals have with the Farmessori. Our goal is to empower the NNMS Jr. High students to use all of the food harvested from the gardens in the food they prepare, while at the same time guiding our decision-making process in terms of what crops are planted. We have a rare opportunity to make the "farm to table" loop direct and meaningful.

Joe on the Farmessori

How does the Farmessori complement the lessons / academics from the classroom?

Honestly, there is no end to the possibilities with connections to the classroom. One classroom is studying the Great Depression in history, which is an excellent lens through which to view the farm. Just this morning I mentioned the concept of patterns while showing the students how to build a brick garden border, and they immediately tied it to math. By studying bees, we can touch on food security, the effects of industrialized farming, ecology, life sciences, and meteorology. The farm is a goldmine for educational points of entry.

Can the community get involved or support the Farmessori?

Absolutely. Beyond serving as a learning space, the farm also operates a CSA group (Community Supported Agriculture). Anyone can be part of it simply by emailing me.

 Why chickens at the Farmessori?

Chickens are a great learning experience on so many levels. First and probably the most obvious is that they provide eggs, which will be sent directly to the school's Sandwich Shoppe to be used for meals - all prepared by the Jr. High students. Chickens also offer a myriad of science lessons in embryology, anatomy, animal behavior, symbiotic relationships... the list goes on and on. Also, they are hilarious and cute, which gives the Farmessori a certain personality.

Any other wildlife you'd like to see there?

I would love to add more chickens. And I hear ducks are awesome farm birds, both in terms of egg production and comedic value. There has even been talk of goats, which is a real possibility since it's already part of Chicago's municipal code. If people think the chickens are adorable, the goats will be a real hit.

What happens over the winter?

We keep farming! One of our goals is to finish the second greenhouse so that we have two fully functional winter growing spaces, one of which will serve as a chicken coop when the temperature drops too low.  In addition, we will build cold frames that will extend the growing season for our outdoor garden beds. It would make me a happy farmer to know that our students leave Near North Montessori School confident that they can grow their own food all year round.

How'd you get into urban farming?

Over the last few years I've become interested in urban farming through the vibrant farmers market scene. While I was in graduate school I worked at a store called the Green Grocer, owned and operated by Cassie Green who is a real advocate for local producers. My role was to pick up orders from the Lincoln Park Farmers Market on Saturday mornings. There I became acquainted with many farmers, all of whom are wonderful people - creative, passionate folks. That experience really piqued my interest in the urban farming movement. I started building raised garden beds in my Ukrainian Village backyard and haven't looked back since.

Also, I suppose farming is in my genes. My great grandfather was a second generation German immigrant who farmed a few hundred acres in northwestern Oklahoma, the same area that was heavily featured in Ken Burns’ film The Dust Bowl. My grandparents went on to be cattle farmers and when I went to college, my grandma gave me a calf as a graduation present. At that time, in my early twenties, I wasn't too interested in farming so she would send me pictures of the cow as it grew. Pretty funny to get that kind of mail every once in a while.

I like the idea that I settled in Chicago, one of the most metropolitan centers in the world, to finally start my own farming career.

Thank you to the Near North Montessori School, and their Urban Farmer, Joe Phillips for sharing Farmessori with us. For more on the Farmessori, Visit it online.

Contact Joe Phillips at NNMS at

Check out the Near North Montessori School and their neighborhood events 

Subscribe to latest blog posts