New Horticulture Committee Brings Farm-To-Table Cuisine to Plymouth Place

Chef Mark Sabbe, Alice Chin, and Chef Rianna Roueche proudly display their first batch of pink oyster and Italian oyster mushrooms.

When Alice Chin created a “plant parlor” at Plymouth Place in LaGrange Park, Ill., two years ago to help repot and maintain struggling house plants, she didn’t realize she was planting the seeds for something much bigger. Today, Chin is the head of Plymouth Place’s newly formed horticulture committee, which is comprised of eight subcommittees — including a new Farm-to-Table program.

“For a program that is just over two months old, we’ve really put our nose to the grindstone,” said Chin with a laugh. 

Working together with Chef Mark Sabbe from Plymouth Place’s esteemed Thirty North Restaurant, Chin and the Farm to Table committee have successfully produced their first batches of Italian oyster, pink oyster and lion’s mane mushrooms. They’ve also harvested their first batch of microgreens.

“Everything is a test right now to see if we can grow in larger quantities,” said Chin, who is working with her team to scale up their offerings. So far, the fruits of their labor have been served by Chef Mark at small group gatherings. The committee also is growing tomatoes, shitake mushrooms and other edible plants.

Tiny and tasty, microgreens pack a powerful punch of vitamins and minerals.

Key to the committee’s success is having all the tools they need right at their fingertips. Plymouth Place’s recent expansion includes a new, state-of-the-art greenhouse, additional raised garden beds and bee hives for successful pollination and future honey output.

“It’s fascinating what our residents are doing,” said Kathleen Riley, director of life enrichment at Plymouth Place, which boasts more than 30 resident-led programs. “We have so many life-long learners who want to continue pursuing their passions and develop new ones. Plymouth Place definitely offers everyone here a platform to be involved and do what they love.”

According to Chin, her passion for cultivating plants is second nature. When she was five years old, her family immigrated from China to Joliet, Ill. “Being an immigrant, we brought over what we knew how to do. My mother didn’t speak English, didn’t have a car, and had never even been to a grocery store,” she said. “I’ve learned so much from her. Our whole yard was a garden. We dried our own veggies. We just figured everybody did that.”

The Farm-to-Table crop of heirloom tomatoes is thriving at Pilgrim Place.

In addition to the mushrooms and microgreens, the committee just started its first crop of tomato plants for its Farm-to-Table program. Inspired by local legend Bob Zeni, the “Chicago Tomato Man” who sells heirloom varieties across Greater Chicago, the horticulture committee volunteered at one of Zeni’s pop-up locations. Zeni “was so taken by our greenhouse, he offered us small seedlings of which he had multiples,” said Chin.

“The biggest thrill was starting tomato plants from seeds given to us by Bob,” Chin added. “Our members started the seedlings and gave away over 75 heirloom tomato plants to our gardeners and staff. We saved some plants for our Farm-to-Table program. You can’t have a good BLT without delicious tomatoes!”

The Horticulture program at Plymouth Place is comprised of eight subcommittees:

  • Farm-to-Table
  • Natives, naturalization and monarchs
  • Beekeeping
  • Greenhouse operations
  • Houseplant repotting
  • Composting
  • Community outreach
  • Fundraising

“It’s been a whirlwind,” Chin said, who has cultivated ideas for the newly formed Plymouth Place horticulture committee over the past two years. “We have one of the largest and most active group of residents. Each subcommittee has a chairman. People are taking my ideas and running with them. It is exactly what it should be. I’m excited.”

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