Volunteers work in the organic garden next to ReUse Depot, 50 Madison St., on Sat. July 18. Photos by Angelique White.
Wednesday, July 22, 2015 || By Michael Romain
MAYWOOD || Straddling the side of reusable building material store ReUse Depot, 50 Madison St., is an organic garden that takes a village to harvest.
On Sat. July 18, the garden hosted area residents, volunteers and sponsor organizations to an afternoon lunch and workout in the garden, which sits right across the street from Proviso East’s football stadium.
Volunteer Jack Perez took a breather after shoveling dirt and assisting with the garden’s second harvest.
“This really helps show people where your food comes from,” he said of the garden. “It shows how to grow food and take care of your health. I think gardens are very empowering,” said Perez, a research assistant at Loyola University Medical Center (LUMC).
Zainab Raji, a senior medical student at Loyola’s Stritch School of Medicine, volunteered to give healthy cooking demonstrations.
“We wanted to show them things that were cost-effective and that could be replicable at home. For instance, we got the fruits and vegetables and made kabobs with them. We also had the kids color lunch bags. We went over what’s a vegetable and a fruit, because some of these kids didn’t know what celery is. These are all ways of showing them how to do things in their own communities and how to grow things,” she said.
The garden is the result of a collaboration between ReUse Depot, who owns the property on which it sits; Loyola University; Proviso Partners for Health (PPH); and Triton, among other partnering entities.
Dr. Lena Hatchett, an assistant professor at Stritch, director of Community and University Partnerships, and one of the founders of PPH, said there were 12 students recruited through the Summer Urban Agricultural Program to help maintain the garden and harvest the organic crops. The program is funded by Triton College and Loyola.
The students, most of whom attend Proviso Township high schools, are paid to work the garden for six weeks. During that time, they also learn about entrepreneurship and gain a social awareness.
Jennifer Bridgman, a senior urban gardening specialist, oversees the students’ field training, introducing them to species of flower and vegetables they may not have known before entering the program. Bridgman said the gardening initiative has yielded more than fresh produce — it’s yielded brilliant ideas.
“One of the students has already written his own grant for a program,” she said. “He got $1,000 to start Hoops for Peace, so kids can come to a safe place to play together. We have twin girls who are in the process of starting their own organization. These kids are amazingly creative.”
“We recruited some stellar, strong, invested students,” Hatch said, echoing Bridgman.
The 12 participants were selected from an applicant pool of 21 students. Some will be retained in the fall to help out in the garden’s hoop house, which will enable produce to be grown in the cooler months.
Loretta Brown, a member of Maywood’s Environmental Beautification Commission and one of the garden’s community mainstays, pointed out some of the produce that had been harvested on Saturday.
“We harvested a bunch today — collard greens, string beans, peppers, cilantro, mint,” said Brown, who maintains community gardens throughout the village.
Bridgman said the students will decide how the produce is used. Some of it, the women hinted, might go to people like Mercedas Hernandez, who manages a cooking group out of St. Eulalia’s Quinn Community Center. Hernandez, who prepared the lunch that afternoon, said her organization is dedicated to cooking healthy food for people who love to eat healthily.
The garden, the good eating, the heightened community awareness — they’re all parts of a virtuous cycle of empowerment, Brown said.
“The high school is right across the street from the business owner who donated the land, so it connects the business with the high school. Some of the teachers from the school are engaged with this, as are the kids. Some community businesses have agreed to purchase from us once we harvest more produce. It’s a farm-to-table concept right here in our own village.”
And for the students responsible for maintaining that concept, the impact of the garden on their lives has been immediate and visceral.
Ronnika Croff, a freshman at Chicago Bulls College Prep on Chicago’s West Side, said her appetite has changed.
“I’ll eat more fruits and vegetables, because sometimes they have us taste things in the garden to see how we like them,” she said. “It also helps us get to know each other.”
“We’re doing things to better the earth with planting,” said Ciana Talmadge, 15, a sophomore at Proviso East. “We’re trying to give back to the community, which gives us so much. It’s nice.” VFP