From Kenwood to Woodlawn, neighborhood gardens cultivate community | Evening Digest

Harvest season, which typically begins in mid-September and can last through November, is underway, and community gardeners are finally seeing the fruits of their labor. Often serving as gathering spaces, places to foster a deeper connection to the environment and a means of addressing food insecurity, these gardens play an important role in the area — though they’re in short supply. 

With about seven food-producing gardens and two ornamental gardens between Kenwood, Hyde Park and Woodlawn, demand for plots is greater than their availability. And that number is shrinking — over the years, several mid-South Side community gardens have closed, and those that remain often reach capacity long before spring. Because of this, many local gardeners interested in nabbing a plot may need to start looking soon.

At 62nd Street Garden, 1364 E. 62nd Street, co-director Charis Wuerfell said the waiting list for their 90 plots is so long, “it usually takes a year or more to get a plot.” 

The same is true at 65th and Woodlawn Community Garden and Kumunda Garden, both housed on land owned by First Presbyterian Church, 6400 S. Kimbark Ave. Benja Murphy, coordinator of 65th and Woodlawn, said they already have 20 people on the waitlist for their more than 170 plots, which will open again next spring. (Around 13 plots are typically reserved for growing produce for the First Presbyterian food pantry).      

The practice of community gardening, or cultivating a piece of land as a group, dates back centuries. In North America, there were three major periods of garden development: During the Industrial Revolution (‘Jardins d’ouvrier,’ or workers’ gardens), World War II and the OPEC oil crisis of the 1970s.Locally, many such gardens were developed during the 70s and 80s. The 65th and Woodlawn Garden, for example, began as an informal garden spearheaded by Hyde Park resident Mike Fowler in 1986, before being officially founded in 2006.







Community Garden 2

Gardener Dorothy Strang points toward a plot of native plants she planted on the embankment of the Metra tracks in Cornell Oasis Garden, 4850 S. Cornell Dr. on Sept. 10, 2022.




A number of these urban oases got their start as guerilla gardens, with people cleaning up and then planting in vacant lots, Murphy said, including himself. “There’s a certain continuity between somebody just doing something on their block…and what becomes a more formalized and persistent community garden,” he said. 

After starting to garden with 65th and Woodlawn in 2007, Murphy helped found Garden Resources of Woodlawn (GROW) in 2010, a nonprofit supporting greening and beautification efforts in Woodlawn with events and resource sharing. He began the organization in part to address residents’ concerns about losing the 61st Street Community Garden to the University of Chicago, which owned the land and planned to demolish the decade-old garden to build the Chicago Theological Seminary’s new headquarters. 

Also in 2010, when the university moved ahead with the demolition, GROW advocated for the U. of C. to “re-home” people who were losing their plots. As a result, 62nd Street Garden was founded and 65th and Woodlawn was expanded three-fold. 

Murphy has now helped to build six or seven community gardens in the Woodlawn area — including Kumunda, 62nd Street and Ellis View Cooperative Garden (63rd Street and Ellis Avenue). 

“You’re always negotiating relationships with the entities that have say over that property, and trying to build a collaborative, constructive relationship with them. And it’s not always easy,” Murphy said. (In 2018, the South Side Weekly reported on the brief shutdown of both Kumunda and 65th and Woodlawn by Rev. Romney Amariah, then-pastor of First Presbyterian). 

Despite these challenges, Murphy and other area gardeners feel the obstacles are worth it. In urban areas, “there’s a certain protectiveness of your space and a little bit of ‘stay away from me,’” said Murphy. He noted that there’s something “really therapeutic” about watching neighbors form connections over the years. “I saw people fall in love, I saw people get in arguments.” 

Before joining 65th and Woodlawn, Ray Glend, another long-time gardener, said he “kept coming to the garden, because the garden here has a beautiful mulberry tree.” Glend noted that “the space itself is very impressive,” and that he was further drawn in by the camaraderie and the people that he met there.  

Black echoed this, saying that when new people move to Woodlawn, they can be perceived as an existential threat, and that he’s seen the gardens “play an important role in introducing new community members to longer standing community members, and creating space for them to build relationships and mutual solidarity.” One gardener told Black that when they moved in, another Woodlawn resident gave her the “essential plants of Woodlawn,” including the wild onion Chicago is named after

“There’s a lot of local culture, local lore that goes into these garden communities,” Black said.

Murphy noted that they are particularly mindful of taking a “Woodlawn-first” approach in awarding plots, to address the realities of gentrification and the differences in resources across South Side neighborhoods.  

Though some community gardens have opened, several have also shuttered over the years, according to local historian and Garden Fair volunteer Patricia Morse. In addition to 61st Street, Elm Garden, 5215 S. Woodlawn Ave. “temporarily closed” in September (Elm Park Advisory Council chair Timika Hoffman-Zoller said they will start gardening again when they get more volunteers).

Today, NeighborSpace, a nonprofit urban land trust, owns a number of gardens in Kenwood, Hyde Park and Woodlawn. Established in 1996 by the city — which owned 387 vacant lots in Woodlawn in 2015 — NeighborSpace uses vacant or unattended lots to create gardens and public outdoor spaces. Today, NeighborSpace owns the Brickyard Garden and 62nd Street Community Garden. (They will also be in charge of the upcoming Kenwood Gardens). 

Several community gardens are also overseen by the Chicago Park District — including gardens in Kenwood Park, Nichols Park and the Cornell Oasis Garden in Burnham Park.  

For those interested in flexing their green thumbs next spring, the Herald compiled a comprehensive list of gardening plots and patches from Kenwood to Woodlawn.







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Kumunda Community Garden, across the street from Moccasin Park on Kimbark Avenue in Woodlawn, Sept. 10, 2022.




62nd Street Garden 

1364 E. 62nd Street

The 62nd Street Community Garden is a part of NeighborSpace, Chicago’s land trust. It currently has 94 raised bed plots which are leased to individual families for the growing season to independently plant, maintain and harvest. Gardeners may also participate in their Gleaning Program, where gardeners donate their extra produce to the Hyde Park-Kenwood Food Pantry. 

Cost is $50 for a full plot or $25 for a half plot, which are given out on a first-come, first-serve basis. Typically all plots are reserved early in the season. If you join their waiting list this year, you might need to wait until the following year to receive a plot. Send an email to info@62garden.com to join the waiting list.

Season runs from around March 1 – Nov. 15. info@62garden.com, 62garden.com

65th and Woodlawn Community Garden 

1228 E 65th St.

The 65th and Woodlawn Garden is a cooperative garden that houses more than 100 (10’ by 10’) plots. They garden organically and have compost bins available for neighbors to contribute. There is also a grill, fire pit and common picnic area. 

Season typically runs from early May through the end of October. 65thandwoodlawn@gmail.com; 773-800-0075. chicagofirstchurch.org/community-gardens/

Brickyard Garden

6115-19 S. Woodlawn Ave

Founded in 1978 and folded into NeighborSpace in 2008, Brickyard garden today has 25 plots, along with student volunteers from the U. of C. hospitals and other area schools. Many gardeners grow vegetables, and their common areas are full of perennial beds, a grape arbor and a visiting family of cats. Brickyard has regular garden workdays throughout the season, as well as occasional potlucks.   

Season typically runs May through October. bhelphand@neighbor-space.org, neighbor-space.org/brickyard-garden

Cornell Oasis Garden

4850 S. Cornell Dr. (located within Burnham Park)  

Part of the Hyde Park-Kenwood community for over 40 years, Cornell Oasis Garden has both vegetable garden plots and a large woodland with native wildflowers and ferns. It currently has 42 garden plots (size varies)that use organic growing practices. In addition, they offer guided birding/butterfly experiences for the public. For more information on volunteer days or other ways to participate, please contact communitygardens@chicagoparkdistrict.com

Season typically runs May through November. Open 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. communitygardens@chicagoparkdistrict.com, chicagoparkdistrict.com/parks-facilities/cornell-oasis-community-garden

Kumunda Community Garden

Kimbark Avenue between 64th and 65th Streets.

Kumunda is the smaller counterpart to the 65th & Woodlawn Community Garden, and is also located near, and owned by, First Presbyterian Church. In Nyanja (the language of an ethnic group in Malawi and Zambia), Kumunda means “in the garden.” The garden was founded in 2013 and contains about 50 plots that cost about $40 annually.. There is also a fire pit and gathering area in the garden.

Season typically runs May through October, 65thandwoodlawn@gmail.com, 773-800-0075, chicagofirstchurch.org/community-gardens/

Kenwood Park Ornamental Community Garden 

1330 E. 50th St. (located within Kenwood Community Park) 

The ornamental (non food-producing) garden is maintained by volunteers from the community for the beautification of the park and enjoyment of park patrons. To volunteer or to learn more about other ways to participate, contact the park district via email at communitygardens@chicagoparkdistrict.com.

Season typically runs May through November. Open 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. communitygardens@chicagoparkdistrict.com, chicagoparkdistrict.com/parks-facilities/kenwood-park-ornamental-community-garden 

Kenwood Park Permaculture Garden

1330 E. 50th St.

This community garden in Kenwood Park operates as a permaculture food forest garden in order to teach and demonstrate permaculture principles. It is a cooperative community space growing food in an environmentally sustainable manner. The garden consists primarily (but not exclusively) of native and perennial plants and relies on minimal external inputs. The space also functions as a wildlife refuge for bees, birds, and other insects and as a pollinator garden. For more information on volunteer days or other ways to participate, please contact communitygardens@chicagoparkdistrict.com

Season typically runs May through November. Open 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. communitygardens@chicagoparkdistrict.com, chicagoparkdistrict.com/parks-facilities/kenwood-park-ornamental-community-garden

Nichols Park Ornamental Community Garden and Chinese Garden 

1300 E. 55th St. (located within Nichols Park)

This ornamental (non-food producing) garden is maintained by volunteers from the community for the beautification of the park and enjoyment of park patrons. The Chinese garden is maintained as an educational space to teach children and others about healthy food and caring for the environment. For more information on volunteer days for either garden or other ways to participate, contact communitygardens@chicagoparkdistrict.com.  

Season typically runs May through November. Open 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. communitygardens@chicagoparkdistrict.com, chicagoparkdistrict.com/parks-facilities/nichols-park-chinese-garden and chicagoparkdistrict.com/parks-facilities/nichols-park-ornamental-community-garden

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