Photo by Dermot Connolly
Jack (left) and Turk, two retired harness racing horses, seem to be enjoying their retirement in their new home in Evergreen Park's community farm, part of the 50-acre Park.
Three horses now call Evergreen Park home, and goats and chickens are on their way to keep them company in the Community Farm in the village’s 50-Acre Park, which is seeing quite a bit of activity these days.
The park, which takes in the western half of what originally was the old Evergreen Park Golf and Country Club, stretches between Rockwell and California Avenue, from 91st to 93rd Street. In addition to the farm, the park also includes a driving range, disc golf course, sledding hill and a dog park. A pavilion where concerts are often held also looks over a manmade lake.
But as popular as the disc golf and dog park are, these days a lot of people are coming by to see the horses. Turk, a female harness racer, got her racing name of “Let’s Talk Turkey” shortened when she arrived in Evergreen Park last September. Jack arrived soon after from Crete-Monee.
Jim Nowicki, an Evergreen Park employee, manages the farm on a daily basis with a lot of help from volunteers. Denny Pietranduono, who is in charge of the farm at the Chicago Agricultural High School in Chicago’s Mount Greenwood neighborhood, also volunteers his time and expertise. He brought over a miniature horse called Ariel from the Ag School to join the others.
Before the end of the summer, a couple of goats are also expected to arrive from rural Indiana, as well as 20 hens.
The farm also includes a large garden, where assorted varieties of tomatoes, onions, peppers, eggplant, zucchini and squash are already growing.
“Last year, we harvested 2,500 pounds of produce, which was donated to local food pantries run by the village and Catholic Charities,” said Nowicki. “With the hens, we will be able to donate eggs this year too,” he added.
Honey will be harvested this year as well, said Nowicki, pointing out the four new beehives added this spring, with 3,000 bees in each.
An apple orchard was also planted along the northern border of the property this year, but Nowicki said it will be several years before the trees will be producing edible fruit.
Nowicki and others at the farm credited Mayor James Sexton with having the vision to keep the land open when Babe Ahern sold the country club property.
“We kept 50 acres of open space and that is hard to come by in this day and age,” said Sexton. “It is nice to have a big open space like this in the village. In addition to the farm, the disc golf is very popular, and the dog park is divided into three for different-sized dogs. The concerts in the park are very popular, too.”
Sexton also pointed out that the retired horses are being trained to be ridden with a saddle.
“Our plan is to start a riding program for special-needs children. It is supposed to be good therapy, and it will be nice to offer that.
“Having the farm really brings Evergreen Park back to its roots,” the mayor added, explaining that when the village started out as open land, it featured “truck farms on every corner.”
The village is accepting donations of new and used livestock-related items as more animals are being added to the barn. The "wish list" included two saddles for adult Standardbred horses; saddle and cart for a miniature horse; saddle pads for Standardbred and mini-horses; grooming aids for animals; and a small hay rack for goats. Anyone with those items may contact the Streets/Parks Department at (708) 422-1562 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.