The Garden

by  Youth Reporter

Editor’s Note: The following story was written by a student in the Urban Youth International Journalism Program in partnership with Imagine Englewood If, a youth services organization based in that South Side neighborhood:

Most people don’t know you can grow gourmet vegetables right here in Chicago, where we have some of the world’s most fertile soil. But because of contamination with lead and other toxins in the soil, we should use raised beds for our urban gardening. That’s what I and other student members of Imagine Englewood If learned in our visit with polyculturalist Seneca Kern.

We visited Kern at Kilbourn Organic Garden in Logan Square, and the meeting had extra importance since Kern and the group Growing Home are in the process of starting an organic garden in Englewood.

I learned and experienced so many things I didn’t know about before, including things that will come in handy gardening. I learned that Illinois has very fertile soil, even though we usually don’t realize it because we are so busy throwing trash in parks and in landfills. Usually we just buy our food and throw it in the trash when we’re done, without even thinking about planting a garden and composting our food waste.

Kern told us that even though the area’s soil is rich, it is best to garden in raised beds because soils in Chicago are also heavy and poorly drained. Raised beds make it easier for plant roots to develop without getting compacted in water-logged soil. Plants with better root growth have higher yields. Kern said raised beds should be four feet by four feet with “weed barriers” made of non-glossy cardboard or black trash bags laid across them six to 12 inches below the surface. Compost and mulch from leaves should be used–about 10 inches thick. The soil should be nice and fluffy and filled with natural minerals. Soil in raised beds warms faster and drains better, meaning you can plant earlier in spring. In wet seasons, it dries out faster.

Other students said they also learned a lot from the field trip.

“I learned that plants are a good source of nutrition because they give us protein and help our bodies,” said Cornelius Jordan, 12. “It increases the length of us living to eat food that’s all organic and no preservatives. It made me think more about different plants, that they’re more important than I thought they were. Now I eat vegetables and organic foods every other day. Before I didn’t eat them at all.”

Makylia Anderson, 14, said hearing from Kern was “inspiring and encouraging.”

“It gives us ideas about planting gardens,” she said. “I learned about plants, fruits, vegetables and herbs and spices. Since the day I visited Kilbourn Organic Garden, I eat fruits and vegetables daily, and now I’m healthier.”

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