AVONDALE — Avondale residents can get help planting a vegetable or flower garden through a new program from a blossoming community group.
The Avondale Gardening Alliance, a group with about 70 core members, recently launched the Rethinking Community Gardens program thanks to a $2,500 grant from milk company Fairlife.
Group members are pairing members with “yard hosts” — neighbors who have the room for a garden, but who don’t have the ability or the time to maintain one. Once the pairing is established, gardeners and “yard hosts” come up with a plan to transform the green space.
The goal is to bring more greenery to park-poor Avondale, provide residents with fresh produce and foster connections between neighbors who otherwise might not have met, group members said.
“We want people to start thinking about community gardening as something that’s for their community as opposed to renting a space in the community,” group member Christina Schleich said. “We can be so much stronger when we share our resources.”
Group members are using materials amassed in recent years, including seeds from the group’s seed library, for the gardens, Schleich said. The grant money will pay for extra raised beds and soil, she said.
Schleich said they’ve already matched up a couple of neighbors, and they hope to make more connections in the summer.
“There’s [a] man on the west side of the neighborhood who is having some mobility issues; he has an amazing garden, he’s always followed the model of inviting the community into his garden. This year, he’s needed to have some surgery, so that’s set him back. So, we’re trying to match him with some neighbors to give him extra help,” Schleich said.
The Fairlife project is one of several community-driven programs and events the Avondale Gardening Alliance has lined up for this season.
The all-volunteer nonprofit has two events coming up: A seed swap and fundraiser May 15 at Metropolitan Brewing, 3057 N. Rockwell St., and its first annual Spring in the Garden event May 29 at Chief O’Neill’s, 3471 N. Elston Ave. The second event will double as a small business showcase, featuring local businesses with an urban agriculture focus like The Insect Asylum.
Also this summer, the group is bringing chicken coops to Linne and Reilly elementary schools for an educational program, and it’s partnering with local mutual aid groups on fresh produce donations. The group manages a community garden at 3323 N. Drake Ave., called the Mindful Living Garden.
Schleich said members launched the Avondale Gardening Alliance in 2014, but it’s taken off in the past few years, going from an online community of 400 neighbors to more than 1,700. Neighbors routinely go to the group’s Facebook page to swap gardening supplies and tools.
Group member Katie Dertz described the group as “neighbors being neighborly.”
“Often that is connected to gardening tasks, supplies, resources and knowledge around gardening. But it extends beyond that because we strongly encourage in-person interactions. We offer centralized ways to trade things — you just walk down the block and meet your neighbor,” Dertz said.
With the Rethinking Community Gardens program and other summer events, they want to create green space wherever it’s lacking in the neighborhood, Schleich said.
“Avondale is cut up into four different wards, and Avondale is a green desert. Our main space was taken away when the Kennedy [Expressway] came through,” Schleich said. “Because of that, and also because our political powers are diluted here in Avondale, if we’re going to have more green space, we’re going to have to make it ourselves.”
To sign up for the Rethinking Community Gardens program, or to get involved in the group in other ways, email AvondaleGardeners@gmail.com.
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