As you may know, our original garden at Peterson and Campbell was a WW2 Victory Garden. Our name “Peterson Garden” comes from that location. The “Project” part stems from our desire to use the WW2 model to see if it would work in our age. And we learned quickly, at that first garden in 2010, that our goal of getting neighbors together on short-term land to grow, learn and connect was a good one. Worked in the 1940’s – works now!
Because property is so expensive in Chicago, we quickly determined that we would focus our energies and resources on teaching people and create long term gardeners vs. focusing on land acquisition to create long term gardens. Basically that means we’ve moved around some. Our original garden location is now a health clinic. Two of our other locations have moved on to other purposes as well. But that’s ok. It is what we do – we find unused urban land and make agreements for 2+ years, put gardens in, teach lots of people, connect communities and then move the gardens when the time comes. The education and community live on – in new gardens and as life-long skills our members can share with others.
This year I’m very excited about a new garden at Northeastern Illinois University called NEIU Ground which we are building on an abandoned tennis court on the campus. Lots of people got together on March 29th of this year to celebrate Cesar Chavez Day of Service and built 120 raised beds for this new garden (and special thanks to Chipotle Mexican Grill for feeding our hungry workers!) Neighbors, faculty, students, other local organizations… the seeds of community were definitely planted for this garden on that chilly but productive day.
Build days are always exciting for me as I get to watch empty spaces transform into something wonderful. But, aside from being the site of our 10th Pop-up Victory garden and the first build day as Peterson Garden Project turns five years old, this particular build held special significance for a history geek like me…
During WW2 this corner of Foster and St. Louis was the nation’s largest victory garden. That’s right. So we’re getting a chance to go back to our historic roots and garden where others have gardened before.
We’ll keep reporting on NEIU Ground and our other new and existing gardens all summer. But this historical connection creates a special soft spot for me and I’m excited to find out more about the history of the original garden.
See you in the gardens!