Plans for community garden growing in Park Ridge; meeting scheduled

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A quiet Park Ridge park could eventually be ripe with vegetables, herbs and maybe even flowers.

A quiet park could eventually be ripe with vegetables, herbs and maybe even flowers.

The Park Ridge Park District is exploring plans for a community garden at North Park, 1400 N. Western Ave. A public meeting to discuss those plans and gather feedback from neighbors and other residents is planned for Sept. 19 at 6:30 p.m. at the park.

"As of right now, we're planning on having roughly 30 different garden plots," said Terry Wolf, director of buildings and grounds for the park district. "We'll be making a percentage of them ADA accessible [for users with disabilities], and that will include accessible parking spaces and a pathway to the area."

The proposed garden plots would be located just north of playground and would be made available to residents to rent and plant in for a year, Wolf said.

"If the program grows and is popular, we could expand it to continue northward," he said.

North Park is a long, rectangular park bordered by Western Avenue to the east, Manor Lane to the South and houses to the north and west. It largely consists of open space.

The cost of creating a community garden at North Park is estimated at $75,000 Wolf said. Much of the cost is associated with creating a disabled parking space where a gravel parking area currently exists and adding a path to the garden area that is accessible for visitors with disabilities, Wolf said.

"Additionally, we are creating some raised, accessible planting beds and installing a water line," he said.

Preparation work is anticipated to begin in the spring.

"The goal would be to have this completed in time for the planting season — some time in May, hopefully," Wolf Said.

The idea of a Park Ridge community garden was circulated by a committee of citizens, said Cindy Grau, a park board commissioner and committee member.

Grau said the group is "committed" to raising a majority of the money or in-kind gifts needed to complete the first phase of the garden.

Grau called a community garden a "great use" of park space, but believes a need exists in the city as well.

"There are people who don't have sun in their yards to grow vegetables, and there are people who don't have yards at all," she said.

Park Ridge resident Nan Parson, who helped organize the community garden steering committee with Grau, said community gardens are about more than raising vegetables.

"Of course it's to produce food and do it in a healthy way, but underlying that is a social aspect," said Parson, who has opened up her own yard for neighbors who want to plant there. "People are getting together, joining together with others to enjoy something they really find fulfilling. It's also good exercise."

For gardeners just starting out, a community garden can be an educational experience as they learn tips from those with more experience, Parson said. A group of gardeners can also provide help and encouragement, especially when the growing season isn't going so well, she added.

Public gardens are "very common" in many communities, Grau said.

"It's becoming a popular way for people to get outside and grow vegetables, or even flowers," she said. "It doesn't have to be just vegetables."

St. Paul of the Cross Catholic Church families have been actively involved in a community garden on the parish campus that benefits the parish's food pantry and Catholic Charities, while Roosevelt Elementary School students and families grew produce for the Maine Township Food Pantry this year.

In neighboring , the village is reaching the end of the very first growing season for its new community garden, known as Farm on Franks.

This year, the garden included 28 public plots and two "demonstration" plots maintained by volunteers, said Assistant Village Manager Hadley Skeffington-Vos. Produce harvested from the volunteer plots was donated to the Niles Food Pantry.

"It went really well, and we've gotten good feedback," she said of the garden.

According to the garden's mission statement, "Farm on Franks aims to build a sense of community while providing the education to develop organic sustainable food systems, beautify our neighborhoods and increase outdoor activity."

The garden, created on unused land south of the Niles Public Services building on the 7000 block of North Franks Avenue, was largely funded through a village-matching grant, in addition to donations and sponsorships, Skeffington-Vos said. Volunteers helped to build the garden plots, she added.

"I think we were all very pleased with how many sponsors we got, and not just how much cash, but how many in-kind donations of materials there were," Skeffington-Vos said.

Like the proposed Park Ridge garden, gardeners pay to rent and maintain their plots. Applications for a 2018 plot will available Jan. 3, according the village's .

Twitter: @Jen_Tribune

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