By Nona Tepper
A new community garden is blooming in River Forest, at the Pump House at the intersection of Jackson Avenue and Berkshire Street.
"It really brings people together of all walks of life and backgrounds, and it's kind of a really happy place," said Mary Masella, garden manager. "It's so pleasant to sit and enjoy, see kids playing, people talking, exchanging ideas about what works better here or there. Some of them are gardeners who are very knowledgeable, some are not and are learning as they go."
The idea for a community garden first blossomed when a retired couple moved to River Forest from Kentucky last year and reached out to the village asking about places to grow vegetables, flowers and more.
The village referred the two to the Sustainability Commission, which is how they met Masella, a member of the group who owns a small landscaping business.
From there, Masella connected with the Chicago Community Gardeners Association, a network of city community gardeners. Around February, Masella and the retired couple attended the organization's conference about how to build a successful community garden, which covered everything from native plants to types of soil.
Inspired, the trio partnered with the village's Department of Public Works and started looking for spaces to create a community garden, which they decided to model after those in Europe that include vegetables and flowers, with an added space for native plants.
The group checked out an area next to the Washington Commons Tennis Court, surveyed a space near Washington and Franklin and visited a vacant lot on Lake Street. But residents were already using the spaces as unofficial dog parks, soccer fields -- and deer were a concern for plots near the river.
"The deer would probably have a nice evening meal out of vegetables," Masella said.
In April, the group ended up checking out the Pump House site, which is owned by the village and, as such, maintained by River Forest's Public Works Department. With full sun coverage, easy access to a water source and soil that had never been sprayed by chemicals, the group realized they had found their spot.
"The stars were so aligned," Masella said.
Public works officials ran a water line for the group to use, and park district officials cut 12 beds in the soil, with the knowledge that there is room for two dozen 4-by-8-foot beds in the space.
The park district also donated a bench, compost and is handling registration for the beds, which cost $25 each to rent and require a $50 security deposit. The security deposit will be refunded after Nov. 1 if residents clean and clear their garden plots. So far, about 10 people have started gardening in the space.
"It's the climate in the world today, people are just not happy eating foods that have been doused in chemicals," Masella said. "If you can grow your own herbs, tomatoes and peppers, why not?"
Prospective gardeners should stop by the River Forest Park District Administration office, 411 Thatcher Ave., during business hours to register for a space.
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