Despite 100-degree weather on Saturday, June 20, the Austin Green Team was out weeding, mowing, planting and sprucing up Unity Garden, 5102 W. Fulton. The shade of the trees, a graceful arching arbor and the fresh growing flowers made the spot feel much cooler than the street and sidewalk.  

The Fulton garden sits in a long, narrow lot that had been filled with trash for years, recalled Green Team member Cora Williams. Some 10 years ago, Vera Watson, a neighbor active in block clubs, local crime fighting and children’s activities declared she’d had enough of the lot’s misuse and contacted Mary Peery, another community activist who lived on Latrobe Avenue. Peery helped many residents start community gardens and stayed active in gardening until her death two years ago. 

Long spring rains this year swamped many of the vegetables, but some plants were catching up in the hot weather, said Green Team president Dan Gibbs, who was mowing the garden paths. 

For 30 years, the Green Team has managed two greenhouses inside Austin Career & Educational Academy High School at 231 N. Pine Street, propagating and growing plants used in community gardens and sold to area gardeners.  

According to communicator Tina Augustus, the Green Team aims to enhance the quality of life on the West Side by working with other community stakeholders. The organization meets every third Thursday at the 15th District Chicago Police community room, 5701 W. Madison.  Their summer events are designed to promote safe and peaceful communities through gardening.

Green Team volunteers come from all over the Austin area. They hold workdays at different gardens each week. Volunteer sessions are scheduled 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Aug. 1, at Vision on Menard Garden, Division and Menard and Aug. 8, at Unity Garden, 5102 W. Fulton. New volunteers are invited.

The Green Team will also meet for Austin Coming Together’s Quality of Life project on Aug. 10, at Leland Elementary School, 512 S. Laverne; Aug .17, at LeClaire Garden, 415 N. LeClaire; Aug. 24, at Memorial Garden, Washington and Laramie; and Sept. 14, at Harambee-Root Riot garden, Waller and Midway Park. And as with the volunteer sessions, new volunteers are invited to attend these meetings. 

“Our family lived in Avondale and Oak Park before moving to Austin,” said Garden Collective workd day coordinator Cindy Gray Schneider, who heads ACT’s Health and Wellness committee on ACT’s Community Narrative team. 

“Oak Park has no community gardens because there are no vacant lots,” Schneider said. “In Austin, we have 16 gardens producing healthy food, beauty and a space to get to know your neighbors. Our kids have adopted grandparents at these workdays — older neighbors who are really invested in the community and trying to make a difference.”

Austin Garden Collective is sponsoring garden seminars in August and September. For more information, email For more info on other Green Team initiatives, call or email Tina Augustus at (312) 238-8992 or


"Barrelhouse Bonni" McKeown, the author of "West Side Blues Blog," has played piano and written about blues music for over 15 years.  She has led classes for young and old on...