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Year established: 1998
Local Leader: Carmen Arroyo
Community Group: Von Humboldt Elementary School and teachers
NeighborSpace Partnership: October 2, 2002
El Coqui Garden is named after Puerto Rico’s beloved symbol of the Coqui tree frog. The site was once a vacant lot that sometimes invited trouble. The garden was originally started as a result of an interested Cook County commissioner and, in 2000 when Carmen Arroyo and a few other concerned neighbors got involved, they helped transform the land into the beautiful space it has become.
The garden now contains beds of flowers and vegetables and has served as a learning lab for some of the students at Von Humboldt Elementary School. When the 5th – 7th graders were learning about the Roman and Greek Empires, they grew vegetables that the people of those historic times would have eaten. Likewise, when they studied Mexico and Asia, the students, with the help of parents and grandparents, planted and harvested vegetables indigenous to those cultures.
When the kids said they wanted the garden to attract butterflies, they planted accordingly. The garden has become an “intergenerational oasis.” The community’s grandparents, toddlers and people of all ages in-between come together for picnics, potlucks and peace.
In Carmen’s words: “Gardening is a process.” Her advice for someone thinking about developing a garden: “If someone wants to start a garden, just do it.” She also believes that NeighborSpace’s involvement is vital to the process.
Best practice idea: Carmen’s view is that one of the main functions of the site manager is to “promote” the garden. It’s crucial for getting and keeping people involved.