grow, marvel, eat, laugh, persevere

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Ginkgo Organic Garden, A Community Garden In Chicago

Later on Saturday after the Garden Bloggers visited Rick Bayless' kitchen garden, we headed over to Ginkgo Organic Garden, one of the many community gardens in Chicago.

Ginkgo Organic Garden is located at 4055 N Kenmore Ave on a vacant Chicago lot.

Just like the Bayless kitchen garden, this one is planted in raised beds and dedicated to feeding a particular group of people. But, from the time you step foot on the Ginkgo property, you know that the similarities stop there.

As soon as I walked through the gate I thought I can do this - I was comfortable. Like walking into a house where you don't need to take your shoes off.

Ginkgo grows all their produce for a local food bank that supports HIV positive needy people, a group who can really benefit from organic fresh vegetables and fruit in their diet. The garden is maintained exclusively by volunteers but overseen by a fantastic organization called Neighbor Space.

I noticed that, while the Bayless gardener talked in terms of how many dollars worth of food they grew last year, the Ginkgo gardener (pictured above, in the white t-shirt) talked in terms of how many pounds of food they produced. Around 1500.

The crop selection was also quite different here. At the end of the year Ginkgo surveys the food bank to find out if they'd like different food options than they have been provided and the Ginkgo gardener says that every year the food bank says the same thing, "more collard greens! less herbs!"

Ginkgo has a fantastic 3 bin compost system and they recently installed a rain collection system onto their modest shed. Their biggest problem? Rabbits! They protect their crops from them using chicken wire.

When we asked Ben Helphand (he's the guy from Neighbor Space pictured above in the blue shirt)how they deal with vandalism, he had four main tips for us:

  1. Involve as many people in the community as you can so that it is shameful to do any harm to the garden.
  2. Make a sitting area outside the garden and encourage the community to gather there and enjoy the garden.
  3. Grow enough to "share".
  4. Plant stuff like Rhubarb at the front because criminals typically have no idea what to do with it.

Before we left, Ben handed out free Blue Lake Pole Bean seeds that were left over from One Seed Chicago, so hopefully, gardeners all over the country will be growing and blogging about their Chicago beans.

If you live in the area and have any spare time during your week, stop on over to Ginkgo Organic Garden and offer to help out in some way. They say their biggest stuggle (besides the rabbits) is having enough volunteers to tend the garden. They'd appreciate anybody, regardless of your level of knowledge and experience with gardening.

Follow me on Twitter for bonus Ginkgo Organic Garden pictures.


  1. Hi Gina, the Ginko garden was very inspiring to me. It's amazing how much good people can do pooling their resources and time. I can't think of a better use of a vacant lot than growing some food to feed some people who need it.

  2. Hi Gina,

    Like you I was inspired by this place, it may not be pretty but I was inspired because of the mission of the garden. One of my favorite pics during the weekend is of the rhubarb I took there.

  3. Hi Gina - this is such a lovely community idea, and as the others have noted, very inspiring. Thanks for bringing it to light!

  4. Very nice arch, this is a great idea, hope every state will have a community garden like this.

  5. Gina, Your description makes me feel like I was there myself. ;-) I also noticed the seed exchange link--in case you're interested, I hosted a snail mail, round-robin seed exchange in January and will do again next year.

  6. It would be awesome to have a cool gate like theirs for the FPCG! Maybe we could get a welder artist to join and give him the plot for free first year to get a gate?

  7. Sounds like a terrific place. Love the 'lbs not $s' attitude.

  8. Your point about feeling like "I can do this" is a great one that is worth preserving. I have had the same feeling from the Bayless garden (though I have only peeked from above), and it's a shame to be intimidated into doing nothing instead of trying one or two new things each year.

    I also like the logic of using Rhubarb as a deterent. I guess we'll know that Slow Food and urban gardeners everywhere have won the war against crappy food when spring rhubarb is seen as a crop to covet and not an anti-theft device. Great post.

  9. That was lovely. But I can't help noticing that you should check your spelling of "ginkgo" out of respect for the garden.