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In February of 2009, five residents founded Growing Station (now known as El Paseo) community garden. They wanted to grow their own food and contribute to their community. They began searching for a vacant lot to build an organic community vegetable garden, eventually asking Alderman Danny Solis for assistance. His trust in these neighbors and belief in the project was invaluable, and he was able to find a space for the garden. The garden was built in July of 2009 and was the first community garden of its size and commitment in Pilsen.
Growing Station Garden is located in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood adjacent to Casa Maravilla senior apartments and Casa Morelos single family apartments. The gardeners built six raised beds with help from 15 volunteers at the end of July, 2009. All the beds were designed to be accessible heights for seniors and residents of all ages and abilities. The gardeners are committed to strengthening the community by growing healthy food, providing activities, and creating a environment for cross-cultural interaction. In the beginning a community garden was an entirely new concept to our community, the logical action was to a focus on generating community interest and involvement. Now the residents sit under the trees, have pot luck dinners in the evenings, stroll the path for morning exercises.
Each year the demand for space has increased. Greencorps Chicago finished expanded the garden with 14 new raised beds in 2011. As of the end of the 2012 season, the garden had grown to 35 raised beds, 10 self-watering containers, 20 container gardens, and 40 gardeners. One garden leader even installed a solar-powered hydroponic container garden. The Growing Station begins its fifth season in March-April 2013 with an exciting list of projects primarily surrounding water conservation. Casa Maravilla seniors are the most active of the gardeners here, ranging in age from 50 to 75 years old. A number of them grew up on farms in Mexico, but some residents have never gardened before. This year a Chinese couple grew herbs and greens. Several families grow vegetables. Overall, the garden welcomes a diverse array of Pilsen residents and professions. Vegetables grown include tomatoes, greens, chard, kale, spinach, collards, herbs, peppers, strawberries, tomatillo, peas, beans, varieties of squash, pumpkin, cucumbers, broccoli, bok choi, onions, garlic, and potatoes.
The Growing Station has always worked with Pilsen Community Market, and currently it works with the Resurrection Project & TRP Imagine Task Force. They were founding members of Alianza Verde Pilsen gardens coalition in 2010, and 2013 will mark the Growing Station’s fourth Pilsen Garden Tour. They also hold potluck summer dinners, evenings of guitar music by residents, planting/volunteer days, garden pot luck meetings, workshops, high school class visits, an October children’s festival, and tours. The Growing Station is proud to be a NeighborSpace site and to have an official Monarch Butterfly sanctuary made possible by Openlands.