Photo by Kelly Whitw
The Oak Lawn Community Garden volunteers held their first harvest Saturday morning, marking the coming fall season. Volunteers helped to pick a variety of crops to be sent to local food pantries.
Volunteers and local organizations celebrated the first Oak Lawn Community Garden Harvest Day, which was held Saturday morning to mark the beginning of the fall season.
The community garden is located between Harker Park, 104th and Minnick Avenue, and the Oak Lawn Village Senior Center, 5220 W. 105th St.
The garden became a reality in June. This is the cooperative project of School District 123, the Village of Oak Lawn and the Oak Lawn Park District. A community garden is a single piece of land that is worked on collectively by a group of people. The Oak Lawn Community Garden is made up of 30 active members.
“Community gardening has been a trend in the United States since the 1960’s,” said Dolly Foster, horticulturist for the Oak Lawn Park District and community garden volunteer.
Foster worked alongside Oak Lawn-Hometown School District 123 Community Liaison Officer Larry Fetchko on the planning and garden creation.
Foster has worked for the parks for almost 10 years. Her duties include caring for the landscapes that can be found in and near the parks and other facilities. She is responsible for the planning procurement and propagation and also runs gardening programs for the park district, with the community garden being the park’s newest program.
The garden is composed of garden beds and is divided into two sections. One half is a pantry garden composed of 22 beds where volunteers from the community plant and care for the vegetable plants and harvest the produce to donate to local food pantries in the Oak Lawn area.
The other half of the garden is allotments that can be rented by anyone in the community. Allotments cost $25 per Oak Lawn resident and $35 for non-residents. Currently, there are 17 people renting allotments. There is currently room for 30 more 4 x 10 or 4 x 16 garden beds.
“Half of the people who are renting allotments are living in apartment buildings or condo complexes,” Foster said. “There are a lot of both apartments and condos in our community and people residing in them have nowhere to garden. They cannot garden on their balcony. The community garden provides a place where they can garden and harvest their own crops. Oak Lawn Park District members have wanted to put in a community garden where people could rent spots and could build their own garden on their own time.”
The community garden also works hand-in-hand with the Oak Lawn Village Senior Center, according to Foster.
“We have a number of raised or elevated beds for senior citizens where they can plant and harvest crops free of charge,” she said.
“It is really nice working with the senior center,” Fetchko said. “Most of the senior citizens that are currently working in the community garden have never gardened before. We encouraged them to try it and often they are surprised at how much they love it.”
With the help of eight community garden volunteers, the group harvested a couple hundred pounds of fresh produce on Saturday morning, including tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, Brussel sprouts, broccoli, lettuce, cucumbers and squash.
The group worked for a total of two hours, picking vegetables, laying out all of the vegetables by type and packing them to be distributed to local food pantries.
“We talked with local food pantries in the area and asked if they needed assistance. However, one major factor in the decision making for the first harvest was if they could store fresh produce,” Foster said.
“Our goal is to supplement local food pantries with fresh produce,” Fetchko said.
The three pantries selected by the community garden for the first harvest were St. Germaine, Trinity Lutheran and Pilgrim Faith church pantries. All three pantries chosen are located within the Oak Lawn community.
The community garden plans to incorporate school children from District 123 into the gardening project this fall.
“When we began planting in June, children were already out of school for the summer. But we look forward to having them help out with future planting and harvests,” Foster said.