If anyone should know about the benefits of creating rich soil from which to grow wondrous flowers and fruits, it’s the Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance. Now, thanks to its recently awarded Federal Recycling Grant, the alliance can share its knowledge of composting with others throughout the community.

The GPCA received one of five Mayor Daley’s Neighborhood Recycling Grants at a ceremony at the Conservatory on March 11. In partnership with the Chicago Park District, University of Illinois Extension and the Chicago Department of Environment, GPCA will use the $50,000 grant to start a new compost education program.

This program, will provide participants with the skills and tools to begin composting in their own backyards, and will create the first master composters in Illinois.

“Members of the Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance are ideal instructors on the opportunities for composting, and they are generous to share their knowledge not only with people in the Garfield Park neighborhood but people all over the city,” said Commisioner Al Sanchez of the Department of Streets and Sanitation, the department that administers the grants. “We hope residents will take advantage of GPCA’s composting programs as yet another way to recycle where they live and help to create a healthier community.”

Using the grant, the GPCA and its partners are establishing four composting education centers. These centers are located at North Park Village Nature Center (5801 N. Pulaski), Garfield Park Coservatory (300 N. Central Park Ave.), Chicago Center for Green Technology, and the Chicago High School of Agricultural Sciences, making them accessible to various neighborhoods throughout the city.

“Two years ago I held the first ever master gardening workshop that focused primarily on composting in dealig with difficulties in gardening,” said Carl Grimm, director of programs at GPCA. “It was the first composting workshop ever held in Illinois. The response to it was very strong and motivated us to start a program where we would train 30 gardeners on composting, and they would in turn train at the four sites. They will even have a hotline to answer public questions.”

There will also be a compost bin distribution day on July 23 at the conservatory to distribute 1,200 subsidized rodent-resistant bins to those in the community. It will allow gardeners to purchace $75 compost bins for around $30.

This project is expected to divert 252 tons of organic waste from the city’s waste stream in the first year and will continue this diversion for the next several years.

Composting is a process well-known to gardeners but has been largely over-looked by many as a form of recycling. It involves the process of recycling organic items such as food, yard trimmings and tree twigs and converting them to a material that can be used to loosen hardened soil, reduces water run-off into the storm systems and holds vital nutrients within the plants.

“Part of the reason that composting has been overlooked up to this point is that many people failed to see the reasons for justifyig educating people about it,” said Grimm. “However, recently the Mayor, who is a lover of gardening, wants to bring it more to light. It is a wise decision.”

Founded in 1998 to promote the conservatory and become a source of plant science and organic horticulture education for Chicago’s communities, the Alliance has grown into a source of pride in the Garfield Park community. The GPCA offers programs for neighborhood youth, runs the Organic Demonstration Garden for those who would like to sharpen their gardening skills, recruits volunteers for the Conservatory (from which the Master Composters will be chosen) and helped to develop the Garfield Market.

If you are interested in learning more about composting in Garfield Park, contact the Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance at 773/638-1777 x26.