FIGHTING FOOD DESERTS IN ENGLEWOOD
Located on the Southside of Chicago, Englewood is notorious for its high poverty rate and gang and drug violence. It is also frequently cited as a food desert. Thus, we were very interested in looking at the impact community gardens have on Englewood residents’ understanding of wellness. Our main research site is Hermitage Street Community Garden.
Hermitage Street Community Garden
Hermitage Street Community Garden was founded in 2011 with the explicit purpose to provide fresh produce to local community members within the food desert and socioeconomically poor neighborhood of Englewood. It is now a NeighborSpace-protected garden that occupies 4 city plots, houses 80 raised beds, and serves 60-80 families. Our preliminary site visits show evidence of this garden’s ability to improve physical health in a poverty-stricken neighborhood where access to quality foods and health care is limited: one gardener explained how her gardening plot enabled her to grow and consume organic, healthy produce which rapidly dispelled her type 2 diabetes; currently, this gardener is taking no medication. Additionally, Hermitage Garden grows organic produce in shared beds to give to local senior homes and homeless shelters. The garden also fosters a more socially connected neighborhood and allows people to find both a safe and meaningful space through weekly community events held at the garden, i.e. zumba classes and cookouts. This garden is a perfect example of food sovereignty in a neighborhood that has been underfunded and underinvested in due to structural violence and racism.
The broad notion of the garden as a place of relief arose during many of our conversations and observations while doing fieldwork. Many people cited the garden itself as being a calming, anxiety relieving, and spiritual space, and several people said the act of gardening allowed them to escape the real world and embrace nature. Relief is also prevalent in that being able to harvest and grow food in a community that is widely known as a food desert is liberating and economically helpful for many families in the community. Because of the garden, community members have an outlet through which they can learn about gardening, growing their own food organically, and eating healthily, all while bonding as a community.
Evidence of placemaking is salient here. The site occupies two vacant city lots, which were transformed from a block that was once riddled with drug and gang violence. In the first year of the site, a prominent heroin dealer operated out of his home which flanked the garden. Within the first few months of the garden’s existence he was arrested and his home seized. Amazingly, the city, interested in the work of the new garden project, bulldozed and donated the newly-emptied lot to the garden. Now, the garden is a beautiful and calm haven, bursting with strong community ties. In our field notes, many of us cited Hermitage Garden and the people who garden there as being incredibly welcoming, warm, and friendly. The garden, unlike any of the others we visited, has no individual or family beds. All of the beds are community beds, which helps gardeners build and maintain strong community relationships.