Residents chime in on proposed fruit orchard

Organizers of the Garfield Park orchard say community input is vital to project

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By Igor Studenkov

Contributing Reporter

The Garfield Park Community Council recently teamed up with the City of Chicago Department of Planning and Development and the Metropolitan Planning Council to figure out the details of the Fifth Avenue Eco Orchard — a fruit orchard that would be built near the intersection of 5th Avenue and Sacramento Boulevard. And they want the community to weigh in.

On Sept. 11, the organizations held the first of three community planning meetings near the orchard's future site at a banquet hall at 2946 W. Madison St. Residents and community activists in attendance got a chance to get some more information about the project and discuss what sort of features they want to see and how the orchard can benefit the community. 

The next meeting will be held on Sept. 25, 6 p.m., at the same location, while the final meeting will be held on Oct. 17, 6 p.m. 

The idea for the orchard grew from feedback by residents who shopped at CPCC's Garfield Park Farmers Market who wanted to be able to buy fresh fruit. While the organization has been pushing for the orchard for the past four years, the project didn't gain significant traction until it was able to secure $500,000 in Open Space Impact funds and a matching grant from Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago. 

The project was able to qualify for the grant because the orchard would double as a flood reduction measure, absorbing and storing storm water that would otherwise go into the sewers. 

During the Sept. 11 meeting, Michael Berkshire, the Chicago Department of Planning and Development's green projects administrator, explained that this would be accomplished through some combination of permeable surfaces, bio-swales and underground storage tanks. He also said that the garden would help cool the surrounding area, noting that, because of pavement and other material that traps heat, urban areas tend to be hotter than rural areas. 

During the Feb. 26 meeting of the Chicago City Council's Committee on Special Events, Cultural Affairs and Recreation, Berkshire said that the city hasn't settled on which city-owned vacant lots along 5th Avenue the garden would grow on. 

During the Sept. 11 meeting, he revealed that the city would choose two lots — 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.

Berkshire said that they chose the parcels that were least contaminated and where flood reduction measures would have the most impact.

Angela Taylor, GPCC's Wellness Coordinator and the head of the Farmers Market, said that the orchard wouldn't create actual jobs, but it would take a lot of effort. She also said that it would create an opportunity to educate the community, especially the youth, about what they can grow and provide an example of creating something that would endure for generations. 

"We're going to get work that needs to be done, and after that, we're going to get more work, and after that, it's going to be more work," Taylor said. "Because a thriving community needs work."

DPD will be in charge of the technical aspects of the project, and it subcontracted Aecom to handle the actual construction. Aecom will be working with GPCC every step of the way. And the two parties are working with the Metropolitan Planning Council to handle to outreach. Taylor said that it was important that the orchard reflects the community's wishes.

"For me, it was very important to get the community in the room at the beginning of this actually moving," she said. "This is not a GPCC orchard, this is not a Farmers Market orchard and it's definitely not Angela's orchard. This is for the whole community."

Kendra Freeman, a manager at MPC, said that her organization's role was to guide interested residents and organizations through the process, so that everybody involved would know what the community wants to see in the orchard and what it wants the orchard to look like. 

She emphasized that the process was guided by the principles of Equitable Transit Orientated Development (eTOD) — that any development should benefit people of all income levels and avert displacement. 

Freeman explained that the Sept. 11 meeting was meant to collect ideas. The Sept. 25 meeting would take those ideas into actual designs, while the Oct. 17 meeting would give residents an opportunity to review the designs, figure out what would be recommended and discuss those recommendations with experts. 

Freeman and other MPC staffers broke up the attendees into groups and had them discuss what they wanted to see. Afterwards, each group presented what they agreed on.

Residents said they wanted edible shrubs, a play space, walking paths, identity markers, native plants to make the orchard easy to maintain, 

One group suggested that residents be able to adopt trees or purchase stones so that the community feels like it has a stake in the garden. Many groups wanted to see some wraparound programming and training programs that would tie into the orchard.

Gentrification was a recurring concern. Rev. Steven Shultz, who heads the D20 Army Community Battle Group, raised concerns about gentrification causing displacement during Ald. Jason Evin's (28th) community meeting a few months earlier. Whereas others were cautious, he had some harsh words during the Sept. 11 meeting.

"What is apparent to me as minister of the Gospel and long-time resident of the community is [that] this project is being used to create ambiance for gentrifying the community," Shultz said, adding that, while he has nothing against orchard, it wouldn't mean much if the people who live in the community get pushed out by rising housing prices.

Outreach was another concern. A few speakers complained that GPCC and others didn't give the community a say in whether it wanted an orchard in the first place before the funding was secured — a charge that Taylor vigorously denied.

"We had three to four conversations about five years ago, before we even [had] a conversation with the city," she said. "We did the outreach, we had meetings over at the church and we had a meeting at the [Garfield Park] Conservatory.

CONTACT: igorst3@hotmail.com  

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