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Shades of Green: Garages can do more than just store cars

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Renee Schwartz

Renee Schwartz, who retired from the Daley Library in 2003, transformed her garage to include a green roof, sundeck and planting beds. “The best thing about the garage is the sense of quiet when you sit on the deck,” she says.

“Shades of Green,” a column on environmental issues related to the UIC community, appears monthly in UIC News.

A few years ago, confronted with an old rotting garage, Renee Schwartz decided, “For once in my life, I’m going to do something I feel really good about.”

That something turned out to be a green garage.

Schwartz, who retired from the Daley Library in 2003, and her husband, Gunnar Knutson, worked with a supportive architect and contractor who turned her dream into reality.

The garage includes a green roof, planting beds and a sundeck. You can put a car in it, too.

“The garage is mostly made from reused materials such as granite threshold from the Goldblatts on Chicago Avenue and 100-year-old boards from LaSalle Street Church. The excavated soil was used for the Joy Garden, a sensory garden for special education students at North Side College Prep,” Schwartz says.

Other materials include salvaged flooring and nontoxic paints.

“The best thing about the garage is the sense of quiet when you sit on the deck,” she says.

“This year I planted strawberries, collards, peas, peppers, eggplant, basil, thyme, dill, cilantro, spinach, okra, green beans and tomatoes — those are for the squirrels,” she says of her rooftop garden.

Last year the local squirrel population wreaked havoc on her vegetables, much to her consternation.

“I’ve struggled to find ahimsa (Sanskrit for the way of nonviolence) with the squirrels. I really have,” says Schwartz, who practices yoga and hosts a regular two-hour silent peace meditation group.

Not only does the garage grow vegetables, it’s a drop-off location for a new community supported agriculture (CSA) venture, Gray Farms Produce of Donovan, southeast of Kankakee.

A vegan, Schwartz searches for high-quality sources of locally grown organic produce.

“For years, Gunnar and I have gone to the Clark and Division farmers’ market to buy organic vegetables. Through that market, we met a young couple just starting their CSA with 20 shares,” she says.

They enjoy getting to know their farmers and feel good about supporting local businesses.

“We have become more involved with the flow of the seasons.”

Schwartz weighs decisions about food and food storage very carefully, adding, “I spent hours debating whether to buy a second freezer. There are the ethical dilemmas of weighing using more electricity vs. canning, driving to the farmers’ market. And of course buying local has its limits, particularly bananas, oranges and chocolate.”

Given her penchant for examining all the options, Schwartz cautions, “You don’t want to go shopping with me — for anything!”

• Kate Yoshida is program coordinator in the Office of Sustainability.

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