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Park Lawn celebrates opening of vegetable garden

  • Written by Joe Boyle

After years of discussion and planning, the new urban vegetable and pollinator gardens opened Friday morning on the grounds of Park Lawn in Oak Lawn.

Nancy Schmitz is the director of development at Park Lawn, which provides instruction and opportunities to promote independence, choice and access to community living for people with developmental and physical disabilities. She said the idea of a garden at the facility, 10833 S. Laporte Ave., was discussed in earnest last October. The idea of an urban garden would give participants a chance to grow plants and vegetables that could be sold at the Oak Lawn Farmer's Market.

Proceeds from the sale of plants and vegetables at the Farmer's Market, which is held on Wednesday mornings at the Village Green near 95th and Cook Avenue through mid-October, would go to assist with programs for Park Lawn.

Schmitz said the idea of the gardens was greatly advanced through the efforts of Maureen Reilly, president of the Park Lawn Board. Schmitz also applauded the efforts of Maureen's husband, Charlie, and board member Cheri Boublis.

“We have really made this space functional for planting,” said Schmitz, who also credited the efforts of Roy Erickson and his Outdoor Maintenance Company in Crestwood for creating the garden. “It's a dream that has become a reality.”

Also attending the ceremony for the opening of the gardens were Steve Manning, executive director of Park Lawn; Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury and Trustee William “Bud” Stalker, whose district Park Lawn is located.

Schmitz said that many volunteers have contributed to the efforts of the creation of the gardens and other programs at Park Lawn. Robert Lauf, who is from Tennessee and works with gardens, visits Park Lawn annually. He said it is a coincidence that he arrived for the opening of the Park Lawn gardens.

“We need to do more for places like Park Lawn who help so many,” said Lauf. “I've supported Park Lawn for over 40 years.”

“We needed to do something that is a great source for the community,” said Maureen Reilly. “And what is better than growing vegetables. The idea came to me at last year's Farmer's Market. People came up to me and said they did not know about Park Lawn. That's when I approached the University of Illinois Master Gardner's Program to help us out. They have been a great help.”

Schmitz said Erickson and his maintenance company deserve a lot of credit for the development of the garden. She said that during the winter months, four beds were constructed in his shop by his employees.

“One sunny day in April, Roy had his crew came to Park Lawn and started digging up the grass, laying and pounding the stone so the beds would stand stable and laid the brick pavers,” said Schmitz. “Next came the installation of the beds, then the plants. Roy's passion for gardening and true belief in our mission made this dream a reality.”

Schmitz also credited the efforts of Busy Bee Nursing in Crestwood, Fasel and Sons Nursery in Oak Lawn, and Maurice Moore Memorials in Chicago Ridge.

Manning said it is through the efforts of the volunteers that made this program happen.

“Park Lawn is a terrific organization,” said Manning. “What makes this so great is that it is a collective effort.”

Vegetables included in the garden are tomatoes, basil, lettuce, arugula, carrots, sweet peppers, eggplant, cucumbers and Brussels sprouts.

“This is a community effort,” said Bury. “I am so proud of Park Lawn. You are going to have an awesome garden.”

Manning said that the new urban garden will allow Park Lawn participants to contribute to society.

“This is just a stepping stone for us,” said Manning. “This allows participants to go out and help out on other projects in the community. The garden is just of part of that.”