Seeking bigger digs

  • Written by Declan Harty

EP mayor looks to expand Giving Garden and

promote village’s history and farming

The corner of 93rd Street and Turner Page-1-color-3-colEvergreen Park’s Giving Garden (above and below photos) could be moved from its current location at 93rd Street and Turner Avenue to a portion of a 50-acre lot on Western Avenue. Photos by Jeff in Evergreen Park is not much different from other intersections in the village.

There are cars parked on the streets. A streetlight stands overhead. Houses lie upon each corner.
Breaking the monotonous tone of house after house after house which line Turner Avenue, is a garden that channels the village’s historical pastime -- farming.
But it’s a little bit more special than that.
The Giving Garden, now in its fourth year, has become a foundation of the intersection and the community. Consisting of 16 raised beds, which play home to various fruits and vegetables, the garden is run and operated primarily through Central Junior High School students and teachers. The school, located at 9400 S. Sawyer Ave. in Evergreen Park, is less than a half-mile from the garden.
The produce that is grown at the Garden is then provided to local food pantries in the area for the needy and to assist in providing a healthier meal option.
“It is twofold, seeing what you need to do and what you can do for yourself nutritionally and how important it is to be healthy, that is a whole big part,” said Kathleen Hatczel, assistant superintendent for Evergreen Park School District 124. “To be able to give back because you get so much, the sharing part, is why they named it the Giving Garden.”
But now the lot that the garden sits on may be a stepping-stone to a larger platform.
Mayor Jim Sexton said he hopes to revitalize and revisit the community’s farming roots and to move the Giving Garden to portion of a 50-acre lot that lies near the new Menards on Western Avenue. The lot would also house farm animals such as retired race horses, Sexton said.
“We have that 50 acres of a new park over there, and we have set aside a portion of that,” Sexton said. “We have the last piece of the park, but we want the kids to understand what the past was here in Evergreen Park, and again let them be able to produce produce and be able to help out the less fortunate.”
Sexton said the village would be borrowing the idea for a farm area from the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences located at 3857 W. 111th St. He said that the property would not be as large as the high school’s campus, but that they “hope for something else like that.”
Hatczel said the expansion has been discussed before, but a larger plot would mandate more community assistance in addition with her hopes to keep the current lot.
“I would love to talk to the mayor about doing that in the near future, but we would have to have help,” she said. “Whether it is the scouts or church groups, I think we have enough interest. We have several master gardeners in Evergreen Park who would be interested, I think, in helping get started. It is just a matter of us sitting down and saying here is the land and what we need to do to plot it out and decide how we are going to get together. I would be very interested in helping get that off with the community.”
The Giving Garden was initially proposed by a variety of group leaders at a meeting at Little Company of Mary Hospital, according to Hatczel. The idea for a community garden was initially much larger including the possibility of churches, schools, shops or anyone participating.
But Hatczel said the difficulties of meeting with that many people took place and eventually she proposed that Central Junior High School, which will begin as a middle school in the fall of 2015, take control of the lot and care for the garden.
Hatczel said with teachers Pat Coci and Sarah Murphy leading the effort, the lot began to prosper along with the school’s club that tends to the garden.
“The Giving Garden is for students and the teachers, they plot, they figure out what it is they need to put in there, and the cool part is, like I said, they are involved,” she said. “Some of the kids have never done that before. So the planting and watching it grow, harvesting it at the end and donating everything back because it is so critical through the summer. It is nice to bring it to the families that can never bring to the food pantry.”
According to Sexton, the garden channels a reminiscing of Evergreen Park’s farming days and when that was the main business in the area.
“It is kind of a throwback to the early 1900s, but besides that I think it is wonderful,” Sexton said. “We have a lot of good kids here in town who want to help the less fortunate, and this is their way to grow something and help the less fortunate that participate at our food pantries and get fresh vegetables and stay healthier. I think it is a great way to get the kids involved, they believe they make a difference and they do.”