Three Brothers Garden
At first glance, the northeast corner of Belle Plaine Avenue and Pulaski Road in Chicago’s Irving Park neighborhood seems like little more than a small paved lot occupied by a few parked cars. Closer inspection reveals the Three Brothers Garden, fenced-in between the parking lot and Irving Park Lutheran Church. Peek over the fence and you’ll see residents gardening rows of thriving fruits and vegetables to be donated to the Irving Park Food Pantry.
While the space it occupies may be unassuming, the garden has done remarkable things to unite and give back to the community. The story of Three Brothers Garden began in 2008, when the Irving Park Lutheran Church demolished a house that sat on the corner. Recognizing an opportunity to extend its involvement in the community, Carlson Community Services (CCS), a nonprofit that serves the Irving Park area through programs such as gardening and after-school programs, approached the church to ask if they could use the land to start a community garden. According to Liz Mills, executive director of CCS, the Irving Park community greatly lacked community gardens, and this newly opened space presented a perfect opportunity. In early 2009, CCS held a public meeting to gauge community interest in transforming the space. Attendance and interest was good, and the church granted CCS the right to use the land free of rent. In March 2009, the community broke ground on Three Brothers Garden.
From the outset, one of the goals of the garden was to provide fresh produce for people in the community, according to Mills. So far, the garden has done just that. All of the fruits and vegetables grown in the garden, including lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, green beans, jalapeños, squash and peppers are washed, weighed and donated to the Irving Park Food Pantry. The pantry is happy to receive these donations because they often lack fresh vegetables, and the people who volunteer in the garden are happy to give back to their community. Sarah Steedman, a garden volunteer, says she enjoys the work partially because she feels like she’s helping her neighbors, adding that “it’s nice to know that my gardening skills are useful.” Indeed, Steedman and her fellow gardeners’ skills are obviously improving, as the garden’s crop yield increased from 576 to 725 pounds between 2009 and 2010.
Volunteer gardeners come from all parts of the community: Some are affiliated with CCS, some with Irving Park Lutheran Church, and it’s not at all uncommon for a stranger walking by to stop, roll up his or her sleeves, and lend a hand. The gates of the garden are always open so it is easy for volunteers to water and visit the garden at any time. Volunteers tend to the garden and harvest crops every Tuesday from 5 until 7 p.m. during the summer months, a consistent schedule that helps regulars and newcomers alike to easily remember when to come and help out. Irving Park residents also can find out about the garden’s programming through CCS e-mail blasts, advertisements in neighborhood newsletters, and word of mouth.