From personal health to neighborhood development to environmental impact, the benefits of community gardening are increasingly good and overwhelmingly shared. Community gardens have helped introduce healthier lifestyles into the homes of young and old for generations—and continue to grow today.
The American Community of Gardening Association (ACGA) offers a broad definition of what a community garden is, stating that it can be urban, suburban, or rural, and hosted anywhere from a school to a hospital. It can grow flowers, vegetables or community. It can also be a series of plots dedicated to “urban agriculture” where the produce is grown for a market.
Because the landscape of Chicago is bountiful with over 600 documented and active community gardens spread across 50 wards, we decided to take a look at how and who is community gardening in our own Chicago backyard.
Our friends at NeighborSpace have been around since 1996 and steward 81 community garden sites across the City of Chicago. As the only non-profit urban land trust in Chicago dedicated to community gardens, NeighborSpace works to provide long-term protection for gardens and establish local partnerships that ensure those gardens thrive. NeighborSpace also covers basic insurance, access to water and creates links to support and technical assistance. NeighborSpace is always looking for additional support through volunteered time and charitable donations.
One success story sprouted from NeighborSpace is that of the Maypole Block Club Garden. Established in 1995 and partnered with NeighborSpace in 2004, the Maypole Block Club Garden turned an abandoned, rundown area into a blossoming community space. “It’s like the garden made the block more peaceful,” says community leader Minnie Smith. “More people started to respect the space and the block since there is somewhere for them to enjoy the outdoors.” NeighborSpace played a role in the evolution of the Maypole Garden by helping obtain the land and continuing to support its growth. “My experience with the garden is knowing that I have made a difference in my community with a sense of pride and beauty, with the help of NeighborSpace,” says Smith.
Another green friend of ours is Growing Power. Growing Power is an urban agriculture organization that is dedicated to building community relationships, offering educational training and developing community food systems. Growing Power’s Chicago Project Office works to manage resource development and the technical assistance needed for emerging Community Food Centers and farm projects in the metropolitan Chicago area. Growing Power has many great urban farm site achievements, including the Jackson Park Urban Farm and Community Allotment Garden.
Established in 2007, the Jackson Park Urban Farm and Community Allotment Garden is used for local gardeners and as a model urban farm for Growing Power to supply fresh produce to Chicago’s south side. There, community members can learn gardening basics from Growing Power staff and have the opportunity to farm their own plot. The space also allows Growing Power to grow produce in raised beds, train and educate community residents who use allotment plots and encourage youth development. Growing Power also works to provide the community with locally grown, fresh, safe and healthy food that exceeds certified organic standards.
Stay tuned for continued community gardening news and achievements as we talk about more do green, do good-ers in the Chicago area. Peterson Garden Project, a non-profit organization committed to teaching people to grow their own food, is a close friend of the Chicago Flower & Garden Show doing wonderful things to create a stronger community. We’re also proud of our friends at Connecting Chicago Community Gardeners, who work to share, collaborate, exchange ideas and build networks within Chicago’s blossoming garden community.
As you can see, the Windy City is green with garden goodness. If you aren’t in Chicago or don’t have access to a community garden, don’t be afraid to start your own! Visit communitygarden.org to find resources for initiating your own community garden or to help locate one near you.