An orchard on the West Side?

After City Council vote and $500K in funding, the idea could come to fruition

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By Igor Studenkov

Contributing Reporter

The Chicago City Council recently voted unanimously to approve spending $500,000 to build a fruit orchard somewhere on the stretch of 5th Avenue, between Kedzie Avenue and Sacramento Boulevard.

The Garfield Park Community Council has been lobbying for the project for years. As the officials explained, they were responding to something they heard from residents who shopped at Garfield Park Farmers Market. The customers wanted fruit, but they didn't have anywhere to grow it. 

Many details of the project still need to be worked out. The city hasn't narrowed down which of the several city-owned vacant lots on that stretch of 5th Avenue it would use, and the timeline is still unclear. 

But what is clear is that the orchard would double as a flood mitigation measure. And, wherever it may be located, the city plans to tie it with new housing planned for that stretch of 5th Avenue, as well as the Hatchery food business incubator, which is currently being built at the nearby Kedzie/Lake intersection.

Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), whose ward includes that stretch of 5th Avenue, explained during the Feb. 26 meeting of the Chicago City Council's Committee on Special Events, Cultural Affairs and Recreation, the Garfield Park Community Council has been pushing for the fruit orchard for the past four years. 

The organization runs the Garfield Park Farmers Market, which was originally located at the southeastern corner of Lake and Kedzie, but which will be operating at the northeastern corner of the intersection while the Hatchery is being built.  

Mike Tomas, the organization's executive director, told the aldermen that the push was a direct response to customer demand.

On Jan 17, Mayor Rahm Emanuel introduced an ordinance that authorized spending $500,000 in Open Space fees collected in East Garfield Park to build the East Garfield Park Community Eco Orchard. 

The ordinance went before the Committee on Special Events, Cultural Affairs and Recreation on Feb. 26.  

Michael Berkshire, the Chicago Department of Planning and Development's green projects administrator, showed several city-owned lots between Kedzie and Sacramento that could be used for the orchard.

"We'll be doing analysis to see which lot would be appropriate to build the orchard," he said, adding that many other details still need to be finalized.

"Right now, we're at the very beginning [stage]," he said. "We'll be going through design, permitting, and construction. We will be working with neighboring groups."

Berkshire also explained that the orchard would be more than a space to plant fruit-growing trees — it would also feature measures to address local flooding.

As previously reported by Austin Weekly News, last year, the city launched the Resilient Corridors program to reduce flooding by either sending water into the ground or temporary storing it. The idea is to reduce the amount of water that goes into the sewers so the sewer system doesn't become overwhelmed. DPD chose North Lawndale and West Humboldt Park as pilot communities. The orchard, Berkshire said, is based on the same concept. 

"We may have some permeable pavement," he said. "More native planting that will be used to be able to absorb storm-water on site."

Because the orchard will help reduce flooding, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago contributed $500,000 to cover the rest of the project costs.

Tomas told the aldermen that the orchard will compliment new housing planned to be built near the intersection of 5th and Kedzie, as well as the Hatchery.

"We're looking at this orchard [as part of] the food hub in the neighborhood, so it will not only bring food but bring jobs to the neighborhood," he said.

Ervin urged his colleagues to vote in favor of the funding.

"I think this will pull together a lot of property along this area and bring back sustainable and nice use," he said.

The committee voted unanimously to approve it, sending it up to the City Council, where it was approved as part of a series of votes.

Tomas told Austin Weekly News that while his organization hopes to run the orchard it will be up to the city to decide what entity operates it. 

Gina Jamison, who runs Kuumba Tre-Ahm community garden, one of the vendors at the community market, said that having fruit for sale right in the community will help everyone, especially the youth.

"They will be healthier and they will be able to make better decisions," she said.

CONTACT: igorst3@hotmail.com

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