POP-UP GARDEN IN ROGERS PARK
Rogers Park, Chicago’s northernmost neighborhood, is a very diverse neighborhood with a variety of different cultures represented in the population, businesses and restaurants, and public spaces. The neighborhood has a large immigrant community, with residents hailing from South America, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, and it is also home to many young adults and long-standing residents, as it is sandwiched between Northwestern University and Loyola University. For our research, we focused on the Hello Howard community garden to understand how and if these different groups of people come together to form a cohesive community that mutually benefits from all that the garden has to offer.
Hello Howard Community Garden
Hello Howard operates under the Peterson Gardens Project, which has eight different community gardens throughout Chicago. Peterson Gardens Project is a nonprofit organization with a mission to inspire people to grow and cook their own food. They partner with organizations in the city to find free lots to create short-term gardens until the land is no longer available (for more information about Peterson Gardens Project, click here).
Hello Howard has been active since 2014 and has about 250 raised beds, 26 of which are dedicated to Grow2Give, another 30 are for Howard Area Community Center refugee programs, and the produce from several other beds are donated to other non-profit projects. Presently, most of the produce for donations is given to the Howard Area Community Center, which serves thousands of low-income clients, including many newly arriving refugees.
We were interested in using Hello Howard as one of our research sites because Rogers Park is very diverse and home to many different immigrant communities. From our initial visits to the site, we found Hello Howard to be very peaceful and serene. Everyone is incredibly friendly to one another and at any given trip to the garden, many of the neighborhood’s different communities are represented by the gardeners. The garden hosts many different events, ranging from weekend yoga to volunteer nights, and at such events, both gardeners and members of the community are often present.
From our conversations with gardeners, we found that the peacefulness of gardening, value of understanding where food comes from, and a lack of trusting food from supermarkets were common explanations for why people gardened. One immigrant man told us that he uses gardening as a way to relieve his symptoms of PTSD — he was not a gardener in his home country, but has found gardening to be essential to his happiness in the US. Another woman who lives in the area has a plot so that her children can learn to value organic produce and understand where their food comes from. We spoke with her children who said they enjoyed working in the garden with their parents and had fun trying new recipes with the produce they grew.
Placemaking in the garden
Placemaking is an important but somewhat fleeting aspect of Hello Howard. Because it is categorized as a “pop-up” garden that can lose its land at any time, the garden is only temporary. However, in the three years it has been there, it has made waves in the community. It donates almost 100 pounds of produce to non-profit projects each week, and one of Peterson Project’s main objectives is to teach and inspire communities to cook and prepare their own food. The garden hosts many different community events, ranging from weekend yoga to volunteer nights, and both people with and without garden plots attend. At one of the garden volunteer nights, several of the volunteers did not have plots at the garden, but were present anyways, weeding beds and helping maintain the space. One woman said, "Although I do not have a plot here, I am interested in helping because I think this is an important space for our community," and several other people we spoke with echoed similar sentiments. Based on our fieldwork so far, the Rogers Park community values this space and sees it as an important way to build community and promote healthier and happier lifestyles. It is unknown how long Hello Howard garden will be there, but hopefully Peterson Project’s mission will have a lasting impact on the Rogers Park community and its residents will benefit from it long after the garden is gone.