El Paseo Community Garden is a volunteer ran organization and community space. We welcome anyone to get involved and find their place amongst the team. We are grateful for the initiative and hard work these volunteers have put forth to make our space thrive.
Co-Founder and Director 2009 – 2015
Project Manager and Photographer 2009 – 2015
Paula and her husband, Antonio, have been the volunteer co-directors of El Paseo Community Garden since 2015. She is responsible for communications, outreach, programming, grant-writing, marketing, and anything else that is needed. She enjoys applying her background in Architecture (‘10 UIC Alumna) for place-making and community-driven design. She completed the University of Illinois Extension’s Master Urban Farmer Program in 2016 and the Openland’s Garden Keepers Program in 2015. In the garden, her driving passion is serving the seniors and children through the creation of projects and programming. She hopes to establish the garden as a sustainable community organization to last beyond their leadership. She serves on the City’s River Ecology & Governance Task Force and the Chicago Infrastructure Reuse Network and strives to address the inequities and negative impacts of greenspace and infrastructure improvements, focusing on the proposed 4-mile trail along the BNSF Line and garden. In 2018 she organized a health fair and fall festival, Cosechando Salud, as the co-chair of the Pilsen Health Task Force. The garden has given her a sense of community in Pilsen and has strengthened the connection with her Mexican heritage. When she is not doing garden work, she enjoys craft projects and playtime with her son.
Antonio volunteers as the co-director for El Paseo Community Garden in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago where he manages construction and various projects, grant-writing and finances, garden maintenance, and serves as the political liaison. He has led the garden along with his wife, Paula, since 2015. However, he has been an active member and project manager since 2011. He graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago with a Bachelors of Civil Engineering. He is currently a licensed professional transportation engineer at Clark Dietz, Inc. He has also completed facilitation training through the Institute of Cultural Affairs and utilizes these skills during public involvement activities at work and in the garden. He also completed the University of Illinois Extension’s Master Urban Farmer Program in 2016. In between work, the garden, and family life, Antonio enjoys finding time to play guitar and skateboard.
Lead Beekeeper, Collective Leader and Farm Manager
Matthias moved to Pilsen in 2017 from Europe and joined the El Paseo Community Garden in 2018. In 2019 he established 2 honey bee hives at the garden with Noah Frazier and grew them into 4 hives in 2020. Matthias is excited to share his knowledge and love for bees as the lead instructor in the El Paseo beekeeping program open to Pilsen residents to learn about beekeeping through theory classes and hands-on volunteer work.
His past experience volunteering at different community gardens in Switzerland and Australia helped him to step up to become the collective leader in 2019. He loves the concept of a collective of gardeners sharing the work and joy of gardening and the many opportunities to learn from each other. After successful completion of the U of I Extension’s Master Urban Farmer Training, Matthias designed the urban farm extension of the garden, leads urban farm volunteers and is excited to make the step from gardening to farming with other members of the garden.
Tamara Becerra Valdez
Permaculture Leader 2021 – Present
Tamara Becerra Valdez is a visual artist and permaculture lead at El Paseo Community Garden in Chicago, IL. Originally from South Texas, she studied herbal medicine at the Wildflower School of Botanical Medicine in Austin, Texas under the instruction and influential guidance of Nicole Telkes, Maria Elena Martinez, and other leading herbalists in the Southwest. She believes herbal medicine and land stewardship are inextricably linked to social justice, healing, and anti-oppression work. Tamara has participated as an artist, researcher, and served as a community liaison in national and international multi-disciplinary, collaborative projects focused on ecology, place, and heritage including Political Ecology: Platform Chicago, City of Chicago Parks District, Deep Time Chicago, and the Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW) Anthropocene Campus in Mississippi. She is Co-Director for Broadcast Advancement at Public Media Institute.
Legacy Member and Ornamental Landscapes
2009 – Present
Carlos was one of the first residents of Casa Maravilla and has been an member of the garden since the beginning in 2009. He is the most experienced gardener at El Paseo and shares his knowledge and support to fellow gardeners. He loves planting flowers like sunflowers, zinnias, and marigolds in the garden for everyone to enjoy. You can find Carlos playing his guitar around the neighborhood and garden to uplift his neighbors’ day. He is also depicted on the mural at Don Pedro Carnitas.
Senior Outreach and Liaison
2015 – present
Juan has been a member of the garden since 2015. He is very involved in his community and volunteers at St. Pius Church regularly. He is also president of the Casa Maravilla tenants association and helps facilitate outreach to the seniors in the community. Juan’s favorite thing to do in the garden is to set up his altars for Day of the Dead, Día de la virgen de Guadalupe, and Christmas Nativity scenes.
Ryan joined El Paseo Community Garden in 2018 as a way to become involved in the community and meet some of his neighbors. Growing up, gardening and farming was always something he was involved in, both at home and in the community. He is glad to have the opportunity to share everything he has learned with new collective members of El Paseo.
Collective Leader 2019 – Present
Genevieve has been a resident of Pilsen since 2017 and a member of El Paseo Community Garden since 2018. Genevieve is passionate about health and nutrition and is able to share those interests with others as both a community health nurse in Chicago and as a collective leader at El Paseo Community Garden. In summer 2020 Genevieve became a garden leader, helping lead the collective gardener harvest for the entire season. Genevieve is looking forward to sharing all the knowledge she’s gained about gardening during her time at El Paseo with new community garden members.
Collective Leader 2019 – Present
Ali Day is an aspiring urban farmer and beekeeper. She has been a member of El Paseo since 2018, and became a collective leader shortly after that. Growing up in rural southeast Missouri, local agriculture has always been a part of her life. She is driven by her love of growing food, an eagerness to contribute to the neighborhood she calls home, and the pursuit of a more equitable and sustainable food system in Chicago. She is a recent grad of U of I Extension’s Master Urban Farmer Training Program and also volunteers with Advocates for Urban Agriculture as their Associate Board president. Outside of the garden, she is an avid climber, camper/hiker, fermenter, home cook, and tinkerer.
2019 – Present
Good with a shovel, Jake is a dedicated volunteer and helps with projects and maintenance. He leads volunteers every Sunday for Stewardship Days. When he’s not in the garden he enjoys reading, video games, and supporting our local brewery.
2019 – Present
David is a licensed architect that enjoys finding time to volunteer and help with projects and maintenance. He has contributed his expertise in the “Lot Expansion” design and leads volunteers every Sunday for Stewardship Days. You can find this dad wrangling toddlers while working in the garden.
Beekeeping Leader 2018 – Present
Noah has been a beekeeper at El Paseo since 2018 and trying to keep plants alive since 2017. He is also Treekeeper through the Openlands program.The garden has let him lay down roots after a lifetime of flight. Growing up in a German diplomat family he went to school in Asia and spent all of his formative years outside of the cultures that his passports say he’s supposed to be a part of. Since joining the El Paseo community he have gotten to know many different aspects of this city which he wouldn’t have crossed paths with otherwise. From the over 200 different gardens that Neighborspace has started, to urban farms, apiaries and miscellaneous green spaces; now he looks at empty lots around the city not as desolate spaces put as places of pure potential. “Those who seek rest find boredom. Those who seek work find rest.”
Beekeeping Leader 2020 – Present
Matthew moved to Chicago in 2015 and has been a resident of Pilsen ever since. He graduated from UIC with a bachelor’s focusing on mammalian physiology/cardiology and currently works as a veterinary technician on the southside. His other interests involve travel, local music, nutrition, and a fascination with human endurance, specifically in ultra-distance running.
Seeing the neighborhood evolve over the last several years inspired him to become more involved in the community. Since early summer of 2020, beekeeping has grown into a passion he continues to pursue regularly at El Paseo and occasionally with other experienced local beekeepers.
Beekeeping Leader 2020- Present
Nikki has lived, worked and volunteered in the UIC and Pilsen region since 2004. She is a Chicago physician who specializes in Occupational and Environmental Medicine. She became interested in the garden in 2015 while attending a hoop house workshop and was intrigued by the location due to it being a former Brownfield site and her background in environmental health. She enjoys gardening, beekeeping, and learning about other pollinators. She is most interested in how the world of bees intersect with public health including the production of bee products. In addition, she loves citrus plants and trees of all types and is fascinated by herb and garlic products. Her other activities include being a regular volunteer at Working Bikes, playing board games, hiking and was a past volunteer at Plant Chicago.
Cecília Resende Santos
Beekeeping Leader 2020-2021
Cecília Resende Santos is a historian of architecture and cities who grew up in Brazil and currently lives in Little Village. She grew up in a family of agroecologists in a college town in a traditionally agricultural area of Minas Gerais, an experience that drew her to El Paseo’s community. She is interested in how architecture and planning mediate human societies’ engagement with the environment, and how relations of power shape the built environment. In her academic research and beyond, she is passionate about decentralized efforts to transform our relations to the built and natural environments through community organizing, alternative pedagogy and urban agriculture and gardening. She is part of the beekeeping leadership team at El Paseo, where she helps care for the garden’s four hives, coordinate volunteers, and engage the public through demonstrations and workshops. She is looking forward to helping expand these educational opportunities this year, fostering positive relations between people and our non-human cohabitants.
Wellness Coalition Leader
2021 – Present
Cristina Puzio is a resident who grew up in the Pilsen neighborhood. She offers the community a chance to learn about wellness, traditional healing methods, like curanderismo, and community care. She enjoys creating safe alternative healing spaces for those in need. At El Paseo community garden she offers outdoor meditation along with collaborating with local sound healers combining meditation with sound healing, and other holistic modalities like reiki healing. Last year outdoor meditation and sound healing attracted many people from all over the city. People seeking rest, peace and healing during the pandemic. Cristina has worked with the following agencies and institutions: Mujeres Latinas en Accion, Jdef Peace Project, Erie Neighborhood House, Tepochcalli, Pilsen Wellness Center, National Museum of Mexican Art, Olin Studio, Full Circle Collective, Three Seeds Gallery, Casa Maravilla and Elevarte. She understands the need for self care, holistic wellness and mental health care in the community. She is now the leader of the new El Paseo Wellness Coalition where she is responsible for coordinating with community partners and other program instructors on wellness events at El Paseo Community Garden. You can follow her on IG at: PilsenChica.