My garden, unfortunately, was left to its own devices this summer and the results weren’t pretty. Forest Park’s new community garden, however, is thriving.
I’d also heard that some of the area neighbors were upset about the garden moving into the small park just north of the Eisenhower.
I asked Stephen Flesch, who lives near the garden, about some of the concerns that he and his neighbors had. He said that the neighborhood was shut out of the planning process and their concerns were heard “post-facto.”
Gina Garrison, one of the community garden’s founders, said they did a lot of outreach but nothing for the immediate neighbors, and she apologized profusely for that. “We would never intentionally alienate the immediate neighbors. Our goal is to build community, not tear it down,” she said.
But Stephen doesn’t feel like the garden benefits the community.
“Open public green space is being utilized for personal gardens, thereby restricting that use exclusively to those few gardeners,” he told me. “This effectively removes it from the public domain – not exactly the purpose of a public park. It is a garden 24/7, and there is no other way for anyone else to use the space.”
Jessica Rinks, another founding gardener, doesn’t see the garden as exclusive. Anyone is welcome to rent a plot, as long as there is space available, and she’s eager for other Forest Parkers to get involved with the garden.
She invited me to stop by and see the plantings up close and she showed me the three plots devoted to the Forest Park Food Pantry – one of which was just seeded for fall harvest. Since the pantry serves dozens of families, Jessica admitted this would only make a small dent in their need, but she hopes to “grow that aspect of the garden.” Additionally, they plan to offer a variety of free workshops to the community.
Jessica also showed me a bed of herbs she wants to make available to the neighbors. I asked her about those neighbors.
“They were concerned that we were taking up the open space where kids liked to play,” she said. “Originally, we had a plan which involved using the whole park space for the garden, but upon hearing these concerns, we agreed not to build any more beds any further south than we already have.”
About two-thirds of the park remains as open space.
Stephen didn’t feel there was a compromise.
“We really just want our park back … the way it was,” he said.
The park district actually leases the land from the state, and when I asked Larry Piekarz, the director, for his take on the garden, he said the program seems like a great idea. “If the park district is successful in obtaining the Roos property,” he said, “I would love to see the gardens growing there.”
I would love that, too, but obviously that’s down the road.
I left the little green beds thinking that the small park by the highway could serve many purposes. The garden was a pleasant place to relax and benefits Forest Park in several ways. But I’d encourage you to visit and form your own opinion.
Stephanie is the author of “I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone” and “Ballads of Suburbia.” She’s a proud Forest Parker who holds a master’s in fine arts degree from Columbia College Chicago. She also works locally at the Beacon Pub and loves to hear from people through her Web site www.stephaniekuehnert.com.