Community Grows for the Greater Good in Uptown

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On May 9th a dedication ceremony was held for the GroGood community garden in Clarendon Park, in the Uptown neighborhood. A portion of the harvest will be donated to the Greater Chicago Food Depository, which recently reported a 32 percent increase in demand for emergency food assistance. Through its GroGood campaign, The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company and its philanthropic partners have installed several edible gardens across the country with the aim to grow fresh-grown fruits and vegetables for people in need.

The unsung heroes of this new community garden are Katie Bezrouch, 23, and Shaindy Robeson-Hirsch, 25, who conceived the idea for the garden and lead a group of volunteers.

Both of these young women trace their interest in gardening to times spent with their mothers in the garden. Katie spent 6 months living "off grid" in 2007 working on farms across the country. She currently blogs about the plight of factory farmer workers, mostly immigrants, and the conditions they endure. She attributes her interest in social issues, in part, to the conservative upbringing she received in Glenview, IL., and the culture shock she experienced when she moved to Chicago at the age of 18. 

Shaindy, an Environmental Studies major, remembers the time she spent as a child helping her mother and their neighbor work in the garden and harvesting crops. Shaindy fondly recalls Marla, her mother's best friend and neighbor, encouraging Shaindy to talk to the plants to help them grow and even giving some of them names. "I specifically remember the watermelon, especially the odd-shaped ones that grew funny against the chain-link-fence," said Shaindy.  Her studies in surveying and mapping for a Field Methods course prepared her to design the community garden.
Last summer the two worked part-time in the Logan Square neighborhood on a project called Cobb Connection--building 15 garden beds and sustainable cobb structures, and employing local youth in the project. Katies says it was a "thirst" for land to garden on after gardening in buckets on rooftops that lead them to team up and look for places to start a community garden. A mutual friend of theirs that works for the Chicago Park District informed them of a program the park district runs that allows residents to build community gardens, right in the parks. By April the two had been informed they were recipients of the grant from The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company and plans for the community garden were finalized.

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katie (right) and Shaindy (center) supervise youth volunteer working raised bed

If the enthusiasm exhibited by the youth volunteers is any indication, Katie and Shaindy are instilling a love of gardening on a whole new generations of youngsters. Courtney who is 12 (and a half, as she points out) doesn't live in the Uptown neighborhood but heard about the community garden through her father who is a security guard at Clarendon Park. "Gardening is fun, and I want to learn how to do it," said Courtney as she prepped one of the raised beds with composted manure.

But it isn't just kids getting an opportunity to get their hands dirty. Cara Taylor, who lives across the street, saw the construction of the raised beds and wanted to become involved with the project.

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Adult volunteer, Cara Taylor, holds thrift store find.

Ms. Taylor grew up on a farm in Virginia with 14 siblings but hasn't gardened in Chicago for lack of space. 'We grew all kinds of stuff," said Ms. Taylor of her childhood on the Virginian farm while holding a copy of Old MacDonald Had an Apartment House. She recently found the children's book, with illustrations that evoke the Uptown neighborhood and took it as an omen to help with the community garden. Ms. Taylor hopes being outside and working in the community garden this spring and summer will help her quit smoking.

The GroGood community Garden at Clarendon Park is located at 4501 N. Clarendon Ave. To learn more about how you can be involved in growing food for Chicagoans in need, visit: www.GroGood.com to take the pledge or Plant a Row for the Hungry. To make a donation or volunteer visit  Chicago's Food Bank. Even if you're not a gardener or urban farmer you can get free seeds from One Seed Chicago and think about sharing some of your bean crop with those less fortunate.

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Volunteers take the GroGood pledge.

Comments

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  • If we have any additional plants after our three tomato plant sales that benefit Slow Food Chicago and The Garfield Park Conservatory, I'd be more than happy to give them to this group. (Or any other like minded group. The more the more!)

    Damien

  • In reply to CandidWines:

    Damnien,

    That's a really cool and nice gesture on your part. Like I mentioned on Twitter I'll pass on the info to them.

  • In reply to CandidWines:

    Damien, Thank you for the kind offer! We would LOVE to have some of your heirlooms, if there are any left over. I will try to come to your next sale.
    Thanks again,
    ~shaindy

  • In reply to Shaindy:

    Shaindy,

    Thanks for signing up for an account and commenting. I wish you two all the luck with your community garden. You're both a big inspiration.

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