The Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance (GPCA), graciously thanked the CHIditarod Foundation for its support of their efforts to address the need for fresh produce in our local neighborhoods of East and West Garfield Park, which are known food deserts within the City of Chicago. The $2,500 grant awarded to GPCA by the CHIditarod Foundation was instrumental to their two main work objectives: 1) growing and donating produce to immediately address the need for access to healthy foods, and 2) educating, training and supporting local gardeners to grow fresh vegetables to feed their community over the long term.
Working in partnership with the Garfield Park Garden Network and the Chicago Community Garden Association, GPCA was able to engage the community in two fundamental ways during the past nine months. First, they provided educational opportunities so that community gardeners could develop and strengthen their skills for sustainable practices. Second, they provided the material resources needed to ensure community gardeners an optimal start to the 2017 growing season. The Garfield Park Garden Network includes 6-9 operational gardens, which are cared for by 55 community gardeners and an additional 30 youth interns during the summer months.
These community gardeners have taken the lead in addressing the need for fresh, healthy foods in their community by working to grow nutritious vegetables for their families and neighbors. There are numerous variables to the successful planting and growing of a vegetable garden – particularly for novice gardeners. GPCA has supported our local community gardeners by teaching them techniques (such as soil health and proper plant spacing) that increase plant resiliency and will improve the outcomes of their growing season. The Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance explains their program further:
“We also utilized the GPCA greenhouse – a warm, sheltered environment – to grow seedlings for the community over the winter months. GPCA’s Greenhouse Coordinator planned and started the seedlings and scheduled the volunteer shifts to care for the seedlings beginning in mid-February. This year, we have already provided more than 1,000 seedlings to the Garfield Park Garden Network and other gardens who reached out to us with a need for starter plants. We expect to provide at least another 500 warm season seedlings to these gardens in mid-May. We are also providing seed potatoes and seed starts for onions and sweet potatoes that are better started in specialized production. Additionally, all of the seedlings grown here at the Garfield Park Conservatory are nurtured to provide produce for the community. We will harvest produce for the Neighborhood Market Days (2nd Saturdays and following Thursdays, June-October) as well as mid-month for the local food pantries. Last summer, GPCA was able to donate more than 1,000 pounds of produce to the community. With an earlier start to this season, we hope to increase the amount of produce we can contribute over the next five months. GPCA will be tracking that number throughout the growing season and will update the CHIditarod Foundation at the close of this season’s distribution. “
Following are other ways in which GPCA was able to impact the community with these grant funds:
• Through a ‘How to Plan Your Vegetable Garden’ workshop at the Chicago Community Garden Association’s March conference and a second session for Garfield Park Garden Network gardeners, we demonstrated how to successfully plan your garden to 46 gardeners. Plant spacing and soil health were prioritized in these workshops to increase health and production of the plants.
• In addition to the workshop, we hosted an important meeting of the Bionutrient Food Association, a group that promotes healthy soil and provides education about the challenges of growing in urban environments specifically.
• The Conservatory hosted the Urban Agroecology Class series. These classes were promoted to the community and attendees were encouraged to share what they’ve learned with their respective gardens and neighbors.
• Setting up a volunteer scheduling system for the Fulton Street Greenhouse to maintain seedlings for distribution among Garfield Park Gardens.
• Tool and material replenishment for 2017 market season. This includes biodegradable produce bags, rubber bands for bunching produce for sale, scale for weighing produce, ice packs for
limiting the wilting of greens, and market signage.
• Soil testing and amendments for community gardens (to be purchased in May). This includes straw mulch for garden beds to increase soil health.
By providing seedlings and educational training, we hope community gardeners can continue to build on their skills and knowledge and share their expertise with the newer gardeners in the group. Through monthly meetings, GPCA will continue to share ideas and tips with community gardeners, and we hope to schedule a garden tour to show off what is happening in each of these gardens with the broader community. This year, we will focus on involving the community gardeners in seed starting – primarily at the Fulton Street Greenhouse, which has partial heat. We will continue to develop and evaluate the success of this growing operation over the summer so that it can be fully set up for the next growing season.