The Austin Garden Collective is bringing back community gardening volunteer days for its second year starting on Saturday, June 20, but there will be some rules in place because of the coronavirus.
"The goal of the volunteer days is really to get community members who live around the community gardens and involve them, as well as support the people who manage the gardens themselves," said Cindy Schneider, strategic lead for health and wellness under Austin Coming Together's Quality of Life Plan and founder of the Austin Garden Collective.
"We are also just being mindful of preventing the spread of COVID-19 in our community, but as we entered into Illinois' Phase 3 of reopening, it made sense to have volunteer days return on a smaller scale."
The Austin Garden Collective introduced volunteer days last year as a way to get individuals from the Austin area involved with the various community gardens throughout the neighborhood.
Activities include pulling weeds, clearing out spaces between gardening beds, planting vegetables or flowers, and placing mulch. Each participating garden will receive a $200 gift card for any expenses needed for their garden.
Last year, Schneider said they had about 20 to 25 volunteers at each Saturday event, but this year, they will be limiting the number to 10 individuals. Also, only one household with children will be allowed at each event.
Volunteers will have to maintain 6 feet of distance from each other; if it is possible, volunteers should bring their own work gloves, masks and gardening tools; and everyone will be required to wear a mask for the duration of time in the garden. For those without a face covering, disposable masks will be provided.
"It is a lot of hard work, but it's fun work," Schneider said. "It's good to be outside and digging in the dirt, especially now because people need to be outside and in a safe environment together."
Others like the Austin Green Team, a nonprofit that builds and maintains community gardens, will also be participating in the volunteer days and encouraging residents to get out to help or learn about gardening.
"We encourage the community to come out and volunteer or at least stop by to learn about the history of these gardens and the reasons why they're here," Tina Augustus said. "There's so much to learn just from these various types of plants and their purpose on earth."
The Austin Green Team's gardens include:
- Rosie's Peace in the Valley Garden, 168 N. Laramie
- Unity Garden, 5102 W. Fulton
- Memorial Garden, Washington and Laramie
- LeClair Garden, 415 N. LeClaire
- Wells Garden, 4900 W. Ferdinand
- Vision on Madison, 1201 N. Menard
The Austin Green Team also manages two greenhouses at Austin Career Education Center, 5352 W. Chicago Ave., where they grow plants that help maintain the community gardens they oversee.
Augustus said they encourage interested community members to sign up to volunteer on their website and take part in events soon to come, like a garden tour set for Aug. 1.
Cassandra Norman, a community advocate at South Austin Neighborhood Association (SANA), said her group also encourages residents to take part in the volunteer days and events held at both the 29th Ward Veteran's Peace Memorial Garden, 5413 W. Madison St., and Farm-To-Table Garden, 5421 W. Monroe.
The Veteran's Memorial Garden will be open this Monday, June 22, along with Chicago's Lakefront and masks will be available to those who do not have one.
The Austin Veteran Community Organization also holds monthly meetings at the garden every third Wednesday and invites any interested residents to attend. Their next meeting is 12 p.m. July 15.
Norman said SANA's farm-to-table garden will start to host events soon, possibly within the next month.
"We have speakers and programs about health, wellness, food and how to grow a garden, so it's mainly an educational opportunity," Norman said.
Use this Eventbrite link to sign up for available volunteer spots. The tentative schedule for each community garden and volunteer day is listed below. Note that some garden locations are still to be determined.
- June 27: Austin Green Team TBD
- July 11: Mayfield Community Garden (301 N. Mayfield)
- July 18: Austin Green Team TBD
- July 25: SANA Farm-to-Table Garden (5421 W. Monroe)
- Aug 1: Rosie's Peace in the Valley (168 N. Laramie), 9 am start
- Aug 8: SANA Veteran's Peace Garden (5413 W. Madison)
- Aug 15: Austin Green Team TBD
- Aug 22: TBD
- Aug 29: TBD
- Sept 12: TBD
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