Putting it bluntly, there’s nothing good about an abandoned lot. It collects litter and can serve as a congregating place where undesirable activity goes on.
Fortunately, in North Chicago, some vacant spaces are undergoing a makeover and sprouting some new and helpful additions.
Since 2010, resident Lamonda Joy has been transforming these lots into pop-up gardens, providing organic food to the growers.
Interestingly, Joy got her inspiration to create luscious green spaces from a vacant lot that she walked past every single day on her way home from work. After seeing a picture of a World War II victory garden in that same space, she had the idea to return the area to its former glory.
The Peterson Garden Project took root in 2010 and at the time, became the largest organic garden in Chicago and the first in a long line of pop-up gardens.
What separates Joy’s gardens from other community gardening projects? Hers are meant to only last for two to five years. (Hence the term pop-up.) The gardens will appear overnight and a few years later, disappear just as fast.
Their creation is very simple: When Joy spots an empty lot, she contacts the owner and asks to use the space for as long as possible. An agreement is signed with the owner, and the following day, the gardeners arrive with the 4’x8’ raised gardening beds.
The project only uses raised beds because the group is unsure what hazards lay in the city soil, and they do not want to risk infecting the produce. Further, the raised beds make it incredibly efficient to start and take down a garden. When a particular lot is no longer available, the beds are simply picked up and carried to the next spot.
In the four years since its inception, the project has grown extensively. This season alone, the Peterson Garden Project will be coordinating 4,000 gardeners in eight different lots across North Chicago. The gardens are open to everyone, and free classes are offered to beginners, as well monthly classes for experienced gardeners. Weekly, the group holds “in the garden” question-and-answer periods.
The majority of the food is consumed by the gardeners themselves, but five percent is donated to area food banks and nutrition programs through a group known as Grow2Give. The Peterson Garden Project is also working to make organic, sustainable food available for low-income families by providing scholarship donation plots.
Clearly, the Peterson Garden Project is transforming those vacant lots from eye sores into a valuable community asset.