Three Oak Park residents are launching the Oak Park Area Edible Gardening Cooperative to encourage and support others who are already participating in or want to become part of the burgeoning local food growing movement. The Cooperative taps into the popularity of the annual Sugar Beet Co-op Edible Garden Tour, which showcases the food growing talents and creativity of local homeowners. Many people who take the tour come away wanting to know more about what it takes to grow big, leafy greens, how to compost or set up a drip irrigation system — and other gardening skills. The Cooperative will enlist gardeners of all skill levels to share, learn and teach other about edible, ornamental and native plants and organic and ecological methods of gardening.
A series of discussions among the Oak Park gardeners and environmental activists — Estelle Carol, Julie Samuels and Cassandra West — led them to initiate the cooperative. All three believe that experienced gardeners and gardeners-in-training can combine their collective power “for healthy land, healthy food, healthy people and a healthy community.”
Edible gardening integrates food plants within an ornamental or decorative setting. Today, it's not uncommon to see edible gardens cropping up more and more in urban and suburban areas, including Oak Park, where some front yards have been turned into bountiful food producing spaces. The gardens lose none of the landscaped beauty that can add to property values. Edible gardeners simply substitute heirloom lettuces, a variety of berries, vegetables and fruit trees for unproductive, water-hogging plants.
In recent years, as urban agriculture has expanded, a louder chorus has begun advocating for homeowners to grow food instead of grass, buoyed by a group called Food Not Lawns, which has more than 50 chapters worldwide. In the Chicago area, many people already grow food at home. In fact, a recent survey found that more food is grown in local backyards than in community gardens. Restaurants are serving up more locally grown food. New farmers' markets keep springing up.
Even the nation’s premier legal association is taking notice of food being grown in urban areas. The American Bar Association book announced this week the publication of “Urban Agriculture: Policy, Law, Strategy, and Implementation,” which provides an overview of information, perspectives and examples of urban agriculture to government officials, lawyers, planners and individuals, nonprofits and community organizations considering some aspect of farming within the city limits.
With all that happening, the Oak Park Area Edible Gardening Cooperative idea took hold quickly. Within a few days, more than 45 people had joined its email list, and its Twitter account already has more than 70 followers. Still in the planning and visioning stages, the Cooperative intends to offer opportunities to share, collaborate, learn and enjoy the rewards that come from growing more edible plants at home or nearby.
A kick-off party for the Cooperative will take place at Green Home Experts, 811 South Blvd., in Oak Park from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 28. It will allow those interested to mix and mingle and participate in a short program that sets the vision and direction for the cooperative. Reserve a seat and RSVP here.
Those attending the party will receive a 10 percent discount on any purchases at the store, which sells green lifestyle goods, sustainable building materials and eco-gardening supplies. They’ll also have a chance enter a drawing to win a copy of “Ann Getty’s Easy Green Organic: Cook Well—Eat Well—Live Well.”