6 things to know about the Eco Orchard

The $1M Garfield Park development has garnered support and pushback

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By SARAH CONWAY

City Bureau

Garfield Park Community Council, the City of Chicago and community stakeholders held a meeting on Oct. 22 at Marshall High School to review two design concepts for a proposed eco orchard and hear recommendations from a panel of experts. The $1 million city-funded project, organized by the Garfield Park Community Council, plans to inject a variety of fresh produce, like fruit and nuts, into the area.

Around 50 individuals attended the community meeting to get more information about the project and to discuss how the orchard can benefit neighborhood residents, and what sort of features they would like to see incorporated into the project. The audience was a mix of Garfield Park residents, urban gardeners, project supporters and Garfield Park Community Council staff. The meeting was the last of three community planning meetings.

This fall, City Bureau reporters will follow development projects such as the eco orchard in Garfield Park. Here is what we know so far about this project. 

 

The eco orchard is five years in the making and is funded by the city.

The idea for the orchard grew out of feedback from neighborhood residents who want fruit at Garfield Park Farmers Market, according to Garfield Park Community Council president Mike Tomas. 

"A light bulb went off in our head several years ago to try to bring an orchard into the neighborhood," said Tomas. The Garfield Park Community Council, which also runs the Garfield Park Farmers Market at the northeastern corner of Lake and Kedzie, plans to sell fruit from the eco orchard. Currently, the market sells 3,000 pounds of locally grown fresh vegetables each year. The organization has actively organized to bring the eco orchard project into the neighborhood over the past five years, said Tomas at the Monday meeting.

Half the funds come from the city's Open Space Impact Fee Funds, with the other half coming from a green infrastructure grant from the Metropolitan Reclamation District to help mitigate neighborhood flooding.

 

The eco orchard will be located on 5th Avenue.

The eco orchard will be built on two parcels—one at the southwest corner of Sacramento Boulevard and 5th Avenue, and one on the north side of 5th Avenue, between Whipple Street and Albany Avenue. The two parcels were selected because they were least contaminated and where flood reduction measures would have the most impact, according to Tomas. 

This site was previously developed by residents returning from the Department of Corrections as part of a two-year green job training program run by the Safer Foundation and the Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance, funded by President Obama's Stimulus Plan. 

 

There are two proposed designs that are being vetted.

Both concepts include natural fencing, pollinator zones, edible shrubs along the perimeter, walkways and fruit and nut bearing trees and bushes. Garfield Park Community Council organizers said they intend to make the eco orchard an intergenerational space that is accessible to all. 

Attendees at Monday's meeting asked for additional plans to include sheds for storage as well as a designated delivery zone for trucks. Lighting and electricity is not included in this project scope because of budget constraints, according Department of Planning representatives. This was a concern for several community members at the meeting.

 

Residents may get a storm water solution.

The eco orchard would feature measures to address local flooding. The plans include native plants that will absorb stormwater, community walking spaces with permeable pavement and temporary storage areas in the form of bioswales and underground storage tanks. The project was able to qualify for the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago grant because the orchard included plans to absorb and store stormwater that would otherwise go into local sewers. 

 

The orchard will be run by volunteers, for now.

Attendees at the meeting questioned the sustainability of a volunteer-run project. "An all-volunteer program is extremely hard to keep people engaged unless there is one, at least, part-time person. Things can fall to the wayside quick, otherwise," said Ramont "Ray" Bell, an outreach coordinator for the water preservation program at Faith in Place, who spoke on the panel at the meeting.  

Gina Jamison, who runs Kuumba Tre-Ahm community garden in the Garfield Park neighborhood and is one of the vendors at the community market, said that the Garfield Park Community Council needed to include at least one part-time staff member on the project. Jamison said she has 14 volunteers at her garden, and finds it difficult to rely entirely on volunteer labor to run garden projects. "I've seen gardens stalled once the leader leaves. If we can get someone committed on a payroll, that's an incentive for success," said Jamison at the meeting. 

 

There is both community support and pushback.

Though most attendees at the meeting appeared to support the project, the meeting got off to a contentious start when about 10 members of the D20 Army Community Battle Group, an anti-gentrification group in Garfield Park, interrupted proceedings to read aloud a list of grievances and demands about the eco orchard project. The group said that safeguards must be put in place to ensure that residents' voices are heard and grassroots interests are addressed in all future planning efforts.

Tomas asked the group to wait until the allotted community discussion time to bring up their concerns, but D20 members refused to stop. Eventually, Tomas threatened to call the police and the group—which had appeared at previous eco orchard discussions—left the meeting. 

In response to the group's allegations, Tomas said at the meeting that his organization has been promoting the eco orchard plans on social media since February 2018 and knocked on 2,000 doors to share information on the project. 

Tomas said in an interview after the meeting that his organization intends to have more meetings on the eco orchard design to incorporate more community feedback into the project. The next meeting has not yet been announced. 

A City Bureau reporting team will be covering economic development in East Garfield Park this fall. Have a tip, suggestion or question? We want to hear about it! Let us know at info@citybureau.org.

This report was produced by City Bureau, a Chicago-based journalism lab. Learn more or get involved at www.citybureau.org.

CONTACT: citybureau.org    

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