For a number of years, The Daily Southtown - the absolute best Chicago source for the real news - has been blessed by the talents of Courteny Greve.
Recently, Courtney Greve joined Phil Kadner as a columnist who accurately reflects the events and the people who shape those events. The great Neil Steinberg explained the role of the columnist to a gathering at the Michigan City Library on Saturday September 15th that as a writer he tries to find the 'something' in a story that brings what is extraordinary to life and gave the example of a chicken processing plant where a woman would cut chicken breast fillets to the near exact 1/4 pound specifications without the use of a scale. Her art developed through practice. Courtney Greve is giving journalism an equally measured cut from life.
Today's Courtney Greve column is a masterpiece of practiced and measured presentation.
In a story about the Cook County Sheriff's Agricultural Program's Mike Taff - a wonderful man who helps convicts develop skills beyond the horrific realities of their confinement ( shank manufacturing and toilet distillation liqours) that take them into possiblities beyond CCDOC - Courtney Greve cuts a true masterpiece:
Taff, 55, is the project coordinator for the Cook County Jail garden. The program teaches nonviolent offenders in the sheriff's Department of Community Supervision and Intervention how to till, plant and weed.
Perhaps more importantly, it teaches inmates skills such as perseverance, teamwork and compassion.
"(The garden offers) a little bit of serenity where they can review their life and figure out how they can make it better," he said.
Taff stumbled into the job. After he retired from Chicago's building department, he decided to switch gears.
"I have six kids still at home, so I had to go to work," he said.
Taff and his wife, Katie, a former FBI employee, are the parents of Michael, Emily, Sara, Connor, Hannah and Natalie, ages 9 to 24.
"Besides, I made Katie a promise," he continued. "I said, 'The day you get pregnant, you never have to work another day in your life.' I'm keeping that promise."
The former Army police officer hoped to work in law enforcement.
"I loved the military and always wanted to be a policeman," he said. "This was the closest thing I could get to working with policemen."
Taff started working for the sheriff's department in 2004. About a year into the gig, he was asked to lead the garden program. The closest he had come to gardening was his parents' blueberry farm in Saugatuck, Mich.
"It was sink or swim," he said.
Taff took a 10-week master gardener course through the University of Illinois Extension Service, based at the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences in the Mount Greenwood community.
This season, a record number of inmates - 32, up from 14 - completed the same certificate program. Three more are planning to take the exam in October.
"This garden changes lives and lifestyles," Taff said. "They can get out of here, become a good citizen, have a trade and get a job."
So far this season, about 4,500 pounds of produce were harvested by inmates and donated to soup kitchens, senior citizen centers and other charity organizations in places such as Robbins and the city's Roseland community.
A cornucopia of crops still need to be picked - pumpkins, eggplant, tomatoes, squash, peppers and collard greens.
"We spread this (bounty) around the entire county," Taff said.
The inmates are not allowed to bring any of the food they've grown inside the jail, but they do get to sample the goods during their shifts.
Taff is pleased with the garden's success, but he has plans to make it better.
"A project stays ordinary unless you bring something new into it," he said.
There is a waterfall of writers who fill up pages of words cut to someone else's agenda and specifications, but there are a few gifted craftsmen - Steinberg, Kadner, Greve, McGrath, Kass and Boston Globe's McGrory - who really cut, trim and present a masterpiece.
Journalism has hope with Courtney Greve!