by Ed Jaeger & Kevin O’Rourke
Have you ever wondered about the garden plots in the park just south and east of Park Tower? We did, too, some seven or eight years ago. By calling the Alderman’s office, we learned that the Chicago Park District managed this garden and that there was a waitlist.
Well, Kevin and I signed up and eventually got our space – only to find out they were assigned on a rotation basis. After two years, we’d have to give up our plots and go back on the waitlist!
Not great, but that was the deal. So we started gardening and, as we got into our second year, we began imagining a more permanent arrangement. Other gardeners we met joined in, and soon we had a grassroots effort to improve the situation.
Little did we know there were people in the neighborhood fighting to shut the existing garden down! They found it unsightly and, among other things, claimed it contributed to the rat population. Hmm .. When was the last time you saw a rat nibbling on a stalk of kale?
These specious complaints only made us more determined, and our talented team set to work getting the alderman’s attention. We wanted to expand community gardening in Edgewater Beach neigborhood and desperately needed his help.
I got the email from the alderman’s office about a meeting date and was excited until I saw the date was in the dead of winter. Now we were doomed. How many of our neighbors would turn out to root for a summer activity at a mid-February meeting?
Sure enough, it was terrible winter weather that day. But much to my surprise, one by one, they came and soon the 48th Ward conference room was nearly full. You should have seen Alderman Osterman’s face when he walked thru the door. Below-freezing temperatures outside, and here was a room full of neighbors asking for his support. Indeed, we had his attention.
In the end, and after hundreds of hours of negotiations and meetings, the Edgewater Beach Gardeners Association was formed. The EBGA board agreed to take over management of the garden this summer and to add more plots. While the existing spaces continue to be on a two-year rotation, the new ones are permanent.
We are particularly excited about a partnership with our local food pantry. EBGA has set aside two plots for the exclusive use of Care for Real. Our members will assist Care for Real volunteers with those two spaces and, in addition, donate excess harvest from our own individual plots.
As our gardening community grows, we have not only the pleasure of growing our own fresh organic produce, but also a unique way to meet and interact with our neighbors.
What I love best about Edgewater is its diversity. Despite our cultural and socioeconomic differences, we talk together and learn from one another. And this is quite palpable with the community garden.
From one gardner, an unfamiliar, tiny, spicy pepper that almost blows your face off. From another – who barely speaks our language – a single word, “cut, cut, cut” to show how pruning back our tomato plant will allow it to grow taller and produce more fruit.
In a recent news release,the current EBGA president said he would like to see enough plots that any resident who wants to grow vegetables can do it, regardless of where in Edgewater he lives. We surely hope so.
A special thanks to Karen Brock from the Chicago Park District (who happens to be an Edgewater resident); Alderman Osterman; Tim Patricio and the Park Tower staff – all of whom supported our efforts at critical times. Tim was particularly helpful in finding space to store the delivery of the new garden bed assembly kits, inside and out of the rain. Thank you all!!
To learn more about the gardens or to get involved visit www.ebga.org
Pictured are your fellow Park Tower resident gardeners contributing to one of the scheduled community workdays. Left to right – Jake Hogan, Brian Schutz, Ed Jaeger, Jeff Fizer, Kevin O’Rourke, and Scott Lopez. Park Tower gardener’s not pictured – Nathaniel Ekman, Ben Kelner, Chitra & Vasant Bhat, Phil Noel, and Anna Bardecka.