When gardening season rolls around in Chicago, we tend to get a little restless. We curse our north-facing kitchen windows and shaded deck, where many a plant has gone to die, and half-heartedly browse Craigslist ads for an apartment with more potential green space. This year, however, we decided to channel our energy into something more productive.
We've spent the past few Saturday mornings digging in the dirt at Ginkgo Organic Gardens on Chicago's north side. This community garden, located on a residential street in a formerly vacant lot, produces approximately 1,500 pounds of produce each year, and donates it to Vital Bridges' Grocery Land, a local food pantry serving people living with AIDS.
Gardening experience is not a requirement to volunteer, which is good, because we have very little. But they put us right to work, weeding beds in preparation for planting, breaking down branches for mulch and laying down ground cover. We've been surprised to discover how much we like to weed – it's oddly calming. Knowing that our efforts will help feed those less fortunate makes it even more meaningful, especially as food pantries are struggling with rising food costs.
Much is yet to be planted this year, but some spring bloomers – like rhubarb, wild asparagus, chives and fava beans – are already popping up. We're told the garden will be unrecognizable by the end of the summer, when it's overflowing with all sorts of fruits and vegetables. We can hardly wait.
Community gardening is a great alternative for urban dwellers with limited space, and Ginkgo is one of many community gardens in Chicago owned by NeighborSpace. If you're in Chicago and interested in volunteering at Ginkgo, please contact Dave Short at email@example.com.
Related: Conscientious Cook: Start a Community Garden
Plus... Reality Bites: Food Banks Hit by the Rising Food Costs
(Images: Joanna Miller)