Shnay: Community gardens to grow in Park Forest
By Jerry Shnay Citizen Journalistfirstname.lastname@example.org February 2, 2012 3:18PM
The garden at St. Irenaeus Church. | Supplied Photo
Updated: March 6, 2012 8:06AM
If the people with green thumbs have their way, in a few more seasons Park Forest may have to add the word “Harvest” to its current motto of “Live Grow Discover.”
In years past, residents were able to toil in community gardens located in the vicinity of Governors State University, but now a move by the village’s Environment Commission, working with the Park Forest Garden Club and various community groups, would turn some vacant properties in the village into garden plots.
“We’re talking to various churches and community groups and everyone seems to be interested,” says Rosemary Piser of the Environment Commission. She adds the idea is an outgrowth of a planned sustainability plan being put together by Park Forest officials and the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning.
The village controls some 25 properties in town that could be used as gardening sites. This includes both vacant sites and those where existing homes were demolished. So far these potential gardens are being promoted to local churches, civic groups and schools.
Currently the village mows all these areas and according to Hildy Kingma, Park Forest’s director of economic development and planning, it costs Park Forest about $370 a year to maintain each site. Kingma says the village plans to reimburse any organization that amount if they plant and maintain a garden.
That “back-of-the-garage” garden plot is nice for a few tomato and pepper plants, and zucchini plant or two, but the average garden area for these properties is more than 7,100 square feet. It will take more than just one or two well-intentioned people to maintain such a large plot. That’s why these plots are being pitched to large memberships. Once a group takes responsibility for a garden, it must sustain the site throughout the growing season. And with the harvest comes an understanding that part of the harvest would be donated to various food pantries in the area.
Giving back to the community is also behind the garden area at St. Irenaeus Church. Last year, the church, in concert with the South Suburban Food Co-op, began a community garden on its property and this year there are plans to expand the area, setting aside more space for fruits and vegetables, orchard trees, blueberry and raspberry plantings,, a space to grow wheat as well as a still undeveloped prairie area.
Piser envisions that most of the community gardens will have raised garden plots with a water collection system such as rain barrels providing needed moisture. And for that plan, she said you can thank Alex Gattone, 15, of Oak Forest, whose impressive accomplishments in designing garden plots for seniors in his community were highlighted in a story that appeared in this newspaper last December.
The Commission, with help from the Garden Club, is currently working with St. Irenaeus and the Food Co-op. There is a need for soil-testing, mulch, plant donations, and the like.
“Right now, we’re shaking the trees for money to get some things done,” says Piser.
So what’s to keep someone from walking off with a few ripe tomatoes from a garden?
“Nothing,” says Piser, who has anecdotal evidence that that kind of theft is rare. “We were surprised to learn about the reduction in some kind of crimes in areas that have these kinds of community plots. It is often the case, she says, that neighbors, police and social service organizations — often those that maintain these plots — keep crime down.
That’s the same concept for St. Irenaeus, which even has a mission statement claiming its large garden will be both an education and demonstration tool. People can dig, plant, learn and harvest as they wish.
February is a just a calendar page or two away from spring. It’s time to get busy.