Garden to table

April 2020 View more

Some of my earliest memories are of my grandmother’s garden in Aurora. She was the one person I knew who grew vegetables in her backyard. Unfortunately, now that I understand the importance of clean eating, my grandmother is no longer around to share her wisdom. Luckily “Aunt V” is. A lifelong Naperville resident, Veronica Porter’s mission is to make sure the art of growing and preparing healthy food is not lost to future generations.

Porter grew up helping on her grandparents’ farm back when Naperville was a small town. What is now considered organic farming was simply the way it always was done in her family. Her biochemist father and nutritionist mother taught her the importance of healthy eating. In fact, Porter didn’t experience a diet full of preservatives until she went to college. After becoming ill, she got approval to grow her own food instead of taking part in the school’s meal plan.

Nutrition, however, was not Porter’s initial career path. After earning a degree in design and engineering, then a master’s in international business and Chinese, she worked on everything from translating the Encyclopaedia Britanica into Chinese, to helping nonprofits promote their businesses. She remained passionate about healthy eating and served as a board member for Building a Healthier Chicago. One day while volunteering at an urban garden, she offered a child some lettuce to take home for dinner. She was shocked when he refused the freshly grown food because his family got their lettuce from a bag. That light bulb moment inspired her to go back to school and get her culinary license and master’s in nutrition. Today she runs Ask Aunt V and offers classes in organic gardening and cooking for people of all ages.

Porter’s classes are held at the Liam Brex kitchen showroom in downtown Naperville (222 S. Main St.). She focuses on teaching proper techniques for creating healthy meals at home. April offerings include Only in Springtime; Keto-riffic; It’s Greek to Me; and Spring Soup, Salad, and Ravioli. Students are encouraged to bring a chef’s knife, an apron, and small containers to take home leftovers.

“I want people to be able to go home and get their families involved in making dinner,” she explains. “Fresh food is half the battle. Once people know what to do, it’s easy to incorporate it into their lifestyles.” In addition to classes, she also hosts team-building events as well as private parties.

As if teaching cooking and gardening wasn’t enough, Porter uses what she earns from the classes to fund her work with veterans. Growing up in a military family, Porter is passionate about helping veterans who suffer from brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder. “It’s been scientifically proven that gardening is very therapeutic for people who have high capabilities with hidden disabilities or special needs,” she states. Through Veterans Victory Farm, she gives military veterans the opportunity to work in a peaceful environment at their own pace and get paid for doing something meaningful.

“We have a couple acres in DuPage and Kendall Counties, but the majority of our farms are on the South and West Sides of Chicago,” she explains. She also partners with a number of houses of worship. “They lend us their land and we take what we grow there and deliver it to soup kitchens and food pantries. That way the homeless get the first and best, instead of what’s left over.” Locally she has gardens at Little Friends and with Connections 203.

Porter’s classes change seasonally and sell out quickly. Schedules and online registration can be found at When retailers reopen, purchase some of Porter’s preserves, topiaries, succulents, and organic heirloom seedlings at Liam Brex in downtown Naperville. This summer she plans to create a vertical garden in the alley behind the showroom and hopes to host high teas and other events.

Photo courtesy Edward-Elmhurst Health