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Evolving stories About Growing Food in a Big City

South Side gardens showcase Chicago's green thumbs

Cassandra West

SEEDING CHICAGO'S VIDEO REPORT ON THE SOUTH SIDE JULY 31 GARDEN TOUR

City and suburban residents and foreign tourists piled into a yellow school bus Sat., July 31 for a tour of Chicago South Side’s urban farms and gardens. NeighorSpace presented the free tour in conjunction with the Chicago Park District. About 30 people got an up-close look at some of Chicago’s oldest and newest community gardens.

Departing from the Chicago Tourism Center Gallery at 72 E. Randolph, the tour’s first stop was the Rainbow Beach Victory Garden at 79th and South Lake Shore Drive. The lush garden sits on Park District land that once was the site of a 1940s victory garden. It’s just steps from Lake Michigan and nearby Rainbow Beach. In a neighborhood with few open green spaces, it’s a real oasis, populated with colorful summer flowers, native prairie plants and gardeners’ favorite vegetables —tomatoes, corn, okra, and many varieties of squash. About 40 community residents have plots in the garden.

The second stop was Growing Power’s Jackson Park Urban Farm and Community Allotment Garden, which is a real working farm that grows produce for local markets and restaurants. The farm employs 15 Chicago youth who are paid to help with composting, mulching, trellising and harvesting, Jonathan Berti, program coordinator said. Growing Power is the Milwaukee-based organization that’s recognized as a national leader in the urban agriculture and local foods movement.

Members of the Woodlawn community garden

Next on the tour was The Woodlawn Community Garden at 65th and Woodlawn. It occupies land owned by the nearby First Presbyterian Church. It has grown from under 39 community plots in 2009 to 116 this year, says garden coordinator Benjamin Murphy.

The final tour stop was the Brickyard Garden, set in between two three-story multifamily buildings on the 6100 block of South Woodlawn. The garden, started in 1975, is a dense, verdant patch that showcases what can come from urban gardener’s imaginations. A wooden open arbor is covered with green grape vines and offers a shady spot of gardeners and visitors. About 30 people took the sold-out tour, which was put on in association with an exhibit at the Chicago Cultural Center on urban gardening: City is a Community Garden. The exhibition looks at urban gardens, vertical farming in the city, and urban chicken keepers through photographs, architectural drawings, and installations. The exhibit continues through Sept. 19, the Chicago Cultural Center, 72 E. Randolph.