Community garden brings students, residents together
July 4, 2013
Children decorated the wooden planting bed boxes with hand prints.

Academy Square Apartments recently kicked off its Home Harvest Community Garden’s second annual growing season. The all-volunteer garden originated last year as a collaboration between residents of the Academy Square Apartments, 318 S. Throop St., and the Student Garden Club of neighboring Whitney Young High School, 211 S. Laflin St. Marina Shannon, social service coordinator at Academy Square Apartments, said organizers created the garden to help alleviate the neighborhood’s food desert, defined as an area in a populated or industrialized area in which healthful, affordable food is difficult to obtain.

“It was also created to promote fellowship and intergenerational social interaction between the students of Whitney Young and the residents of the Academy Square Apartments.” Shannon said. The garden gives families healthful food choices “that were grown right on site,” she added.

Benefactors contributed $20,000 to replant vegetables started from seed in the Whitney Young Greenhouse and to expand the garden from six to 12 raised beds that allow sustainable, intensive farming. This season, residents and students are growing beets, tomatoes, onions, cabbage, cauliflower, peppers, collard greens, herbs, radishes, and zucchini as well as flowers. During the garden’s recent opening event, Skinner Elementary School students and other students who live in the Academy Square Apartments decorated the flower beds’ wooden perimeters with hand prints.

Whitney Young students started the community garden to help move the community onto an environmentally sustainable path through the Mycelia Project, created by biology teacher Todd Katz.

Mycelia are the branching, threadlike parts of fungi that help them absorb nutrients from their environment while providing benefits to terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. By breaking down organic compounds, they help the environment and enrich soil. The Mycelia Project shows students how organisms can benefit and work with each other.

Katz created the Mycelia Project after researching food deserts.

“Sixty-four out of 98 communities within Chicago are located in food deserts,” Katz explained. He led faculty, staff, and students in building a greenhouse on Whitney Young’s campus three years ago. Friends of Whitney Young, a parent organization, helped pay for the greenhouse; teachers and students also contributed by collecting $10,000 worth of redeemable five-cent milk caps over four years. Since the project began, Whitney Young students have recruited 446 more students from their school and another 671 students from 67 other schools to help their community outreach endeavors, which span 61 Chicago neighborhoods.

Mycelia Project students have spoken with more than 580 adults about their project and worked with 113 teachers from 63 schools throughout the city to teach 3,255 children and young adults about how they have made a positive impact on their community and environment.

To learn more about the community garden, contact Marina Shannon or Jesse Hinton, social service coordinators at Academy Square Apartments, at (312) 829-0419. To contact Whitney Young, call (773) 534-7500.

— Lisa R. Jenkins