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Back to School: Our Favorite Things
Ken Dunn at City Farm

Ken Dunn at City Farm

Jim Newberry

Ken Dunn

In 1968, when he was a graduate student in philosophy at the University of Chicago, Ken Dunn spotted a group of unemployed men throwing their empties into a vacant lot. Believing that both the men and glass were being wasted, he pulled up alongside them in his truck and made a proposal: if they helped him gather the bottles and sort them by color, he’d sell them to a glass company and they could split the proceeds. They went along with it, and after Dunn returned with their cut, one of them asked, “So where are we working tomorrow?” He couldn’t just walk away. By 1972, he’d made a decision to make garbage his life—a decision he didn’t see as necessarily incompatible with philosophy.

The Resource Center, the south side-based nonprofit he founded in 1974, now has 38 employees running recycling, composting, bike rebuilding, job training, and community gardening programs. Their City Farm is an organic garden cultivated on a vacant lot in the middle of the Cabrini-Green public housing development, employing several neighborhood residents and selling vegetables to local restaurants and walk-in customers. Like all of the center’s projects, Dunn says, the farm is meant to demonstrate that it’s viable and preferable to live in close proximity to nature: “We need to create an alternative on a scale that can’t be dismissed, and that showcases the pleasure and beauty of life values—of being in the right place with plants, animals, and people.”

Dunn, 65, says that in recent years Americans have become more aware of the need to make sustainable choices, “but I still don’t see people doing the right thing.” Too many are still buying SUVs, driving when they could bike, and assuming the solution to our energy problems is finding more places to drill for oil. But Dunn doesn’t sound angry or frustrated. “I’ve never felt repressed or denied—I’ve always thought, ‘The world is open.’ And when I encounter a problem, I try to solve it.” Resource Center (222 E. 135th Pl.) and City Farm (1204 N. Clybourn), 773-821-1351, resourcecenterchicago.org. —Mick Dumke

We also want to hear your stories about your favorite people, places, and things in the city--go here to share them with the rest of the class.


A & T Grill
Elizabeth M. Tamny

All Rise Gallery
Liz Armstrong

The Ando Gallery at the Art Institute
Tamara Faulkner

Bartender Ballet at the Violet Hour
Mike Sula


The Basement of After-Words
Monica Kendrick

The Blue Crab Lounge at Shaw’s
Michael Lenehan

The Butcher Shop
Noah Berlatsky

Deborah Butterfield’s “Ben”
Ryan Hubbard


The Diary of Virginia May Garcia
Noah Berlatsky

The Fern Room at the Garfield Park Conservatory
Martha Bayne

Fine Wine Brokers
Kathie Bergquist

The Grid
Bill Savage


Hideout Dance Parties
Martha Bayne

Jazz Record Mart and Dusty Groove
Peter Margasak

Jollyball at the Museum of Science and Industry
Noah Berlatsky

Ken Dunn
Mick Dumke


The Lobby Bar at Second City
Albert Williams

Lost & Found
Kathie Bergquist

Manhattans at the Matchbox
David Hammond

Matinees at the Music Box
Adam Langer


Marina City
Lynn Becker

The Mausoleum at Rosehill Cemetery
Kerry Reid

Monday Night at Sidetrack
Zac Thompson

Monday Night Farm Dinner at Lula Cafe
Peter Margasak


Moo & Oink
Mike Sula

Music Box Massacre
J.R. Jones

The Murals at the 18th Street El Stop
Brenna Ehrlich

The Newberry Library
Harold Henderson


The North Branch Trail
Jennifer Sodini

Open Mike at Gallery Cabaret
Julia Rickert

Outdanced!
Liz Armstrong

RUI: Reading Under the Influence
Kathie Bergquist


Silent Summer Film Festival
J.R. Jones

Sunday Transmission at the Hungry Brain
Peter Margasak

The Sweet Spot at the Empty Bottle
Miles Raymer

Textile Discount Outlet
Tasneem Paghdiwala


The Thorne Miniature Rooms at the Art Institute
Albert Williams

Victory Gardens Greenhouse Theater
Albert Williams

Wil Hasbrouck
Harold Henderson

The Window Seat at Letizia’s
Emerson Dameron


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