The Shingler kids are motivated by food—especially yellow pear tomatoes, red peppers and green beans. Every night Cate, 9, Helena, 7, and Emonn, 5, gobble raw vegetables for dinner.
Their mom discovered that if you want your kids to eat vegetables, then grow them yourself.
A few years ago, the Shinglers, who live in Chicago’s Bowmanville neighborhood, started helping with the local community garden—Bowmanville Community Garden. Soon enough they were growing all their fruits and vegetables.
“My kids get out there and weed and eat vegetables right out of the garden,” says their mom Claire Shingler. “It became our after-dinner destination.”
The Shinglers aren’t the only Chicago family obsessed with community gardening. In the city, there are about 300 community gardens, says Joe Zarrow, development and strategic communication coordinator for NeighborSpace, which acquires land for community gardens, supplies water and makes sure the soil is safe. (Openlands and the Peterson Project are other similar organizations in Chicago.)
“There’s been an upsurge in popularity in the past couple years,” says Elvia Rodriguez Ochoa, neighborhood programs director for Openlands. “When things get tight economically, people become much more interested in gardening. There’s an interest in local food and community food.”
Community gardening isn’t new—the concept was around in the 1800s when gardens were established in cities to teach urban children about gardening, says Cordalie Benoit, board member of the American Community Gardening Association.
But in recent years, community gardens have gained popularity as people search for ways to eat fresh, organic foods.
Kids are a big part of many of the gardens in Chicago.
“They’re learning about where food comes from. They’re learning it doesn’t come from a wrapper in a store,” says Zarrow. “Somebody actually grows it.”
Here are a few Chicago community gardens that are particularly family-friendly. Check out chicagocommunitygardens.org to see if there’s a community garden near you.
Operated by the South Chicago Art Center, the Artist’s Garden on Brandon Avenue is considered an outdoor studio, as well as a community garden. Sculptures sit throughout the garden, and art classes are often taught in the garden where students use plants and the environment as inspiration.
“Think about growing up in a neighborhood where there’s no green space,” says Sarah Ward, executive director of South Chicago Art Center. “They can come here to observe life, to take a deep breath, to enjoy the outdoors in a beautiful fertile place. It teaches them long-term skills.”
Encompassing four city blocks, the garden is free to community members who are allowed to grow whatever they choose. There are 35 fruit trees and five community beds also used to grow fruit and vegetables for a local food pantry, and to teach cooking classes to students at the South Chicago Art Center.
This 40-plot community garden is all about families. Community garden days are organized with families in mind—complete with snacks and jobs for the kids. To participate, gardeners must pay $10 a season and agree to help in the garden at least 12 hours.
“The vegetable gardens have really taken off in the community,” says Shingler. “There’s lots of families. The neighborhood has really cultivated a green angle for sustainable living.”
The Garfield Community Council likes to think of this garden as a centerpiece of the community. About 22 raised beds are available for gardening at a cost of $20 per season.
“We grow pretty much everything,” says Angela Taylor, who is involved with the garden. “Our kids do everything from shoveling compost, planting seedlings. I don’t think there is a task that kids can’t do in the garden. Pretty much anything an adult can do, kids can do.”
Taylor’s grandkids Daniel Jr., 13, and Briana, 6, help in the garden every week.
The Fulton Street Flower and Vegetable Garden is in the running for a community garden makeover through the Garnier Green Gardens project. (Vote for it at green.garnierusa.com.)
Kristy MacKaben is a mom of two and frequent contributor at Chicago Parent.
See more of Kristy's stories here.
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