My Green Chicago | Eco-genius Jenny Babcock

This environmental consultant focuses on green building practices—but she loves a good organic tomato, too.
Photograph: Andrew Nawrocki
By Julia Borcherts |

As a consultant to the Chicago Department of Transportation at the Chicago Center for Green Technology, WRD Environmental employee Jenny Babcock spends her workday learning about options to make your life greener. The Upstate New York native, an interior designer by trade, moved to Logan Square in 2007 to work for Green Depot and began volunteering at the Center, whose mission is to promote and advance sustainable homes and workplaces. In early 2011, Babcock's volunteer gig became a full-time job, which involves overseeing the facility’s Green Building Resource Center, coordinating the Green Product Committee, working with vendors to explore new, sustainable residential and commercial construction products and technology, curating revolving exhibits and administering the Center’s volunteer and internship programs. Some of her favorite green places to visit include:

Inspiration Kitchens
“The local component to sustainable living is really important in my book,” says Babcock of the restaurant, which uses locally sourced ingredients to make your lunch, brunch or dinner, provides food-service training to underemployed Chicagoans and does it all in a building that features solar panels to produce its hot water. “Also, their food is outstanding—the quinoa burger [with herbed aioli, slow-roasted tomatoes and mixed greens, $8] changed my life.”
Inspiration Kitchens, 3504 W Lake St (773-801-1110, Wed–Fri 11am–3pm and 5–9pm, Sat 9am–2pm and 5–9 pm, Sun 10am–2pm.

The ReBuilding Exchange
“There is an incredible selection of doors—some from old houses, some from barns, and they make great alternative desk tops,” says Babcock of the organization that takes donations of building materials, furniture and fixtures from a variety of deconstruction sources and also offers workshops and job training related to reclaimed materials. “You can spend an entire afternoon walking around their warehouse and looking at all the unique pieces for your project,” she continues. “I found a faucet in the shape of a fish with a cherub riding on its back. I cannot wait for the opportunity to use these things in my own space!”
The ReBuilding Exchange 2160 N Ashland Ave (773-252-2234, Tue–Sat 10am–6pm, Sun 10am–4pm. Workshop costs range from free–$150.

Heppner residence
Babcock recommends you take a ride on your bike past one of the greenest homes in Chicago. “Homeowner Tim Heppner has done his homework,” she says. “Working with an existing building, he has tightened the building envelope, created a sub-slab earth loop in the basement to heat and cool the house, dug bioswales [landscaping designed to filter pollutants from runoff water], created a composting space, and has calculated, reduced, and accounted for every BTU and watt coming into and leaving his house.” Heppner will lead a workshop—and a tour of his house—this summer as part of the Chicago Center for Green Technology’s Green Tech U series.
Heppner residence, 8628 S Marquette Ave.

Growing Power’s Iron Street Urban Farm
“They have hoop houses, which are really cool to walk into,” says Babcock about touring this local spot, which impresses her not only because it produces food year-round, practices composting, and employs small-scale aquaponic systems, but also because it offers a “fantastic” entrepreneurial youth development apprenticeship program and works with area schools to create and maintain their own gardens. Her favorite part of the tour? “Don’t miss the mushroom chandeliers! They’re hanging structures that the fungi are growing out of overhead.”
Growing Power’s Iron Street Urban Farm, 3333 S Iron St (773-376-8882, Thu 10am, Sat 10am and 1pm; $10 suggested donation (RSVP requested).

The Chicago Center for Green Technology

“Maybe it seems like I’m cheating with this one,” admits Babcock, “but I’m always surprised at how few people in the city know we exist!” The Center offers guided and self-guided tours of all the buildings’ systems and exhibits and maintains a resource library that’s yours for the perusing. It also facilitates its mission through Green Tech U classes taught by industry professionals, most of which are free. Two that Babcock are especially excited about are “Building Deconstruction: So That’s How You Do It” on April 10 and “Low and Zero Energy Homes” on April 14.
The Chicago Center for Green Technology, 445 N Sacramento Blvd (312-746-9642, Self-guided tours Mon, Wed, Fri 9am–5pm; Tue, Thu 9am–8pm; Sat 9am–4pm. Guided tours available Mon–Sat at 10:30am and 1:30pm (R.S.V.P. required for tour); free.

Logan Square Farmers' Market and Indoor Farmers' Market

Babcock’s favorite daytime summer activity is to walk over the market to peruse the regional and seasonal fruits, veggies, breads, and prepared foods and catch up with neighborhood acquaintances. While she prefers to take in the market as a whole rather than make a beeline for specific booths, she does recommend the eggs from Temple Organics. She also likes that this market moves indoors for the winter. “[It’s] a great way for local vendors to continue purveying their goods late into the season.”
Logan Square Farmers Market (Logan Blvd at Milwaukee Ave) and Indoor Farmers Market (Congress Theater, 2135 N Milwaukee Ave), 773-489-3222, Sun 10am–2pm (through March 25), Sun 10am–3pm (June through October), free