We’ve had a bountiful summer season here in Chicago, and there’s been plenty “growing on” at Skinner Park’s Community Roots Demonstration & Community Garden. Wrapping up its second full season of programming, Community Roots is a unique hybrid growing and learning space on the Near West Side at Skinner Park, adjacent to Skinner West Elementary and Whitney Young High School.
Community Roots offers a schedule of free, family-friendly workshops on-site from May through September with a variety of local collaborative partners, including the Illinois Extension Master Gardeners, Green City Market, and the Chicago Botanic Garden. Topics ranged from “Tomato Tasting & Seed Saving” to “Insect Petting Zoo” to hands-on cooking demonstrations.
The Chicago Park District’s network of community gardens dates back to the WWII Victory Garden movement, when edible gardens were planted at public parks to help support the public food supply during wartime. Rainbow Beach Victory Garden on Chicago’s South Side kick started the city’s community garden efforts back in the 1940s. The three acres of vegetables and flowers growing there are still tended by local community members today.
RBVG may be Chicago’s last remaining original “victory” garden, but community style gardens remain an important part of our modern urban landscape. Of the Park District’s 70 community gardens throughout the city, about 20 are edible, including Skinner Parks’ Community Roots.
Before its launch last June, there hadn’t been any pre-existing garden infrastructure at Skinner Park, which also includes a dog park, playground, and sports fields. But CPD Senior Program Specialist, Kristin Brock, and her team thought it would make for an approachable space for locals and visitors alike because of its central location (1331 W Adams). Brock had long hoped for a way to intersect the Park District’s youth education efforts with its robust adult services, and an edible demonstration garden was the perfect medium to reach an all ages audience.
The Community Roots space is the only CPD community garden with an outdoor classroom – a beautiful pergola with ample picnic style seating. Community Roots is also unique in that it’s a hybrid of community garden beds and staff managed beds. The pergola divides the space into two main sections – the eastern beds are the community plots, which require a small seasonal fee from users, and the western beds are maintained by CPD staff and are utilized for programming.
This season, the programming beds have been abundant with a wide variety of crops, from traditional summer basics like tomatoes and peppers, to special heirloom varieties as a part of Slow Food’s Ark of Taste program. Brock says after learning about the Ark of Taste initiative, she was inspired to dedicate a portion of the growing space to these special crops as a tool for teaching about biodiversity, as well as to highlight the rich histories of cultures bonding over growing, harvesting, and cooking food together. “Preserving family recipes and traditions is such a good thing,” says Brock. In fact, at this Wednesday evening’s workshop, local community member Jorge Felix will demonstrate his grandmother’s sofrito recipe using garden harvest.
Beyond the raised vegetable beds, the public portion of the garden also features native prairie plantings, medicinal herbs, sensory plants, a small grove of fruit trees, and composting, with room for growth in seasons to come.
For Brock, the potential of a dynamic space like Community Roots is invaluable, and a powerful component of the Park District’s wide range of services. “At their core, the parks are places where people can come together, an important gathering space outside of work or home,” she says. “Having community gardens located within the parks allows people to become more invested in their local park and, by default, their neighborhood and city.”
There are still two Community Roots workshops left this month before the summer comes to an official end – Jorge’s sofrito demo on the 13th, and a “Build Your Own Worm Bin” with the Master Gardeners on September 20th, both at 6pm. (An RSVP is required for the worm bins – email email@example.com to reserve your spot.)
Throughout the “off-season,” Skinner is actually one of only two CPD parks hosting an after-school winter gardening program. Contact Skinner Park directly for more information (see below).
Community Roots will start up again for the 2018 programming season in late spring.
Questions? Contact Kristin Brock at firstname.lastname@example.org
1331 W Adams Street