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United by gardening: Evergreen church's produce project just keeps growing

  • Written by Terrance Peacock

The year United by Faith Evangelical Lutheran Church opened its CommUnity Garden, three gardeners participated in the produce-growing project.

Now in its third year, the garden has expanded to 16 gardeners and is getting bigger, according to head gardener Robin Huiras.

“People are really recognizing the importance of eating well,” Huiras said. “They are also recognizing the value of eating food that is raised organically.”

The CommUnity Garden offers growers the chance to practice sustainability by cultivating fruits and vegetables. Located on the grounds of United by Faith Church, 3240 W. 98th St. in Evergreen Park, the garden has just one 8-foot-by-4-foot plot empty; however, Huiras is accepting applications to lease beds next year season as well. Each bed can be leased for $50 per year.

The garden is open to anyone, Huiras said. Last year, the garden yielded hundreds of pounds of produce which was taken home by the growers to use in their own households. In addition to the garden being 100 percent organic -- no chemicals-containing fertilizers or pesticides are used  -- the garden promotes the use of collected rainwater and re-purposed materials, Huiras said.

“When I say re-purposed materials, that means we will take something that was a different object in another life, and remake it into a structure in our garden,” Huiras said. “This year we used three kiddy swimming pools and turned them into garden beds.”

The garden features four rain barrels from which gardeners can fill up watering cans to water their plants

“Actually, rain water is much better to use than water from the spigot because it doesn’t contain any chemicals,” Huiras said. “The plants really thrive from the use of the rainwater.”

If any gardeners have questions regarding their efforts, Evergreen Park resident and Community Garden master gardener Kate Bradley will be available throughout the season. Bradley said the questions she finds herself answering most often pertain to pest issues and when to harvest crops.

“If there is something eating the leaves, we identify what’s eating it and how to get rid of it organically,” Bradley said. “Also, a lot of people don’t know when they should be picking the vegetables.”

This is the third year Bradley has been the master gardener for the CommUnity Garden, which is a wonderful outlet for people who are interested in gardening but just don’t know how.

“The garden is a great spot where people can go and meet other gardeners, see other things growing and partake in their food choices,” Bradley said. “I wish more people would do it.”

United By Faith Church member Victoria Beale of Evergreen Park said she has partaken in the garden every year since its creation. Beale this year rented four beds in which she planted carrots, watermelon, beets, tomatoes, peppers, green beans and okra. She loves to garden because it is a spiritual exercise, she said.

“It is very spiritual to plant something,” Beale said. “It’s like you are planting roots in your life, so when I watch things and see them grow it just makes me happy to see things that are alive.”

The garden is open from sun-up to sun-down. Huiras said the church welcomes anyone to walk around the garden and see for themselves what the garden is about.