We’ve organized a comprehensive list of information below, to help you get started if you are a beginner, or to increase your knowledge base if you already have a green thumb. If you’re a beginner, and you don’t have a yard to use, there’s probably a community garden already in existence in your neighborhood, that you can tag on to. If there’s not, and you and some neighbors want to start one, that information is provided as well.
*Also to see our March 2012 feature article on ‘Gardening in Chicago’ click here*
Guide to Community Garden Sites in Chicago:
- The Chicago Urban Agriculture Mapping Project. This is where you should go first, if you want to find a community garden to participate in. Directly quoted from this wonderful site: “The Chicago Urban Agriculture Mapping Project (CUAMP) is an ongoing collaboration between individuals, organizations, businesses and institutions that seeks to inventory and map urban agriculture across the Chicago Metropolitan Area. It includes everything from small residential gardens to commercial urban farms. With an interactive map and directory that link to detailed profiles for each growing site, CUAMP aims to provide the public with a comprehensive and constantly evolving look at the state of urban agriculture in Chicagoland.” Check it out!
- Chicago Park District. Check out here for a complete and current list of community garden sites in Chicago’s Public Parks. Gardeners take initiative and responsibility for the community garden and are able to grow ornamental and edible plants.
- Neighborhood Gardens. Check out NeighborSpace for a list of neighborhood garden sites. NeighborSpace owns property in a wide variety of neighborhoods and community areas throughout the City of Chicago. Their 76 community gardens in Chicago range from ornamental gardens, native plant gardens to standard vegetable gardens.
- The Harvest Garden program gives children age 8-12, a three season in-depth experience with organic vegetable gardening.
- Jackson Park Urban Farm. In collaboration with the Chicago Park District, Growing Power manages the Jackson Park Urban Farm and Community Allotment Garden in Chicago. This half-acre site is used as a community garden for local gardeners and as a model-urban farm for Growing Power to supply fresh-produce to Chicago’s south side. At the farm, community members learn gardening basics from Growing Power’s staff and have the opportunity to farm their own plot. The Jackson Park Urban Farm includes space for Growing Power to grow produce in raised beds, training and education of community residents who use allotment plots, youth development, community outreach through education programs and the availability of locally grown fresh, safe and healthy food that exceeds certified organic standards. (773)256-0903 – field house.
- The Edible Gardens are located in Lincoln Park Zoo’s Farm-in-the-Zoo, presented by John Deere, and open to the public from April through mid-November. The Edible Garden is open to all, weather permitting, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays from 10:00am – 1:00pm. The Edible Gardens program at Green City Market provides hands-on gardening education and activities to children, adults and school groups, and offer FREE Monthly Hands-on Gardening Workshops.
- Angelic Organics Learning Center On Farm and Urban Chicago Classes, experience directly on the farm or in an urban setting where food comes. Tours, workshops, and group programs on growing, beekeeping, raising poulty and more. On the farm, you can use real tools, eat from the fields, milk goats, feed chickens, make soap, or build a compost pile.
- Angelic Organics Learning Center CRAFT Field Days, free training events for beginning farmers, for Craft Members. Craft Memberships are $25. for ‘Craft’, $30. for ‘Friends of Craft’.
- Chicago Botanic Garden has an extensive line of lectures, classes and workshops available. They also have wonderful demonstration gardens of various types and designs.
- Garfield Park Conservatory holds workshops, lectures and even has horticultural vendors onsite. They provide a wealth of information, ideas and resources for horticulture
- Advocates for Urban Agriculture, a coalition of organizations and individuals interested in learning about, networking and advocating for urban agriculture in the Chicago area.
- Parkways Foundation is the non-profit partner of the Chicago Park District. Parkways offers grant opportunities for community gardens registered with the Chicago Park District.
- GreenNet is a coalition of non-profit organizations and public agencies committed to supporting community greening in Chicago. Their website lists guides, other community gardens, ideas, resources, organizations and potential funding
- One Seed Chicago is an urban greening project. Yearly, residents vote for a favorite seed and One Seed Chicago mails you the seeds for free.
- GreenCorps, which is found under the Dept. of Environment, City of Chicago, suggests grants, resources, and support
- Friends of the Parks has mini-seed grants available
- Kilbourn Park Organic Greenhouse offers workshops and lectures, as well as their annual plant sale and Harvest Festival. They provide horticultural ideas, resources, and programs: (773) 685-3359 or www.chicagoparkdistrict.com (under “Parks & Facilities,” look for Kilbourn Park)
- Wicker Park Garden Club is a highly successful community garden that provides many resources, workshops, lectures and events
- Openlands supports community gardens under their Urban Greening program
- University of Illinois Extension website supplies a wealth of resources. They have a plant clinic based at the Garfield Park Conservatory where they can troubleshoot many individual plant/gardening problems. Master Gardener and Master Composter certification classes are also available.
- American Community Garden Association works to create new resources for community gardens, coordinates an annual conference, and has online resources and informative lists of all topics involving community gardens.
- National Gardening Association promotes the environment, is a resource of plant information, has a free newsletter, and provides links for gardeners. Periodically, they provide information about grants and other funds available
**Also see our recommended reading list under ‘books’ in the right sidebar**
Heirloom Seed Catalogs, Resources, Etc.:
- Annie’s Heirloom Seeds. Only Heirloom varieties, no hybrids. Family owned and operated.
- Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. Over 1300 varieties of heirloom, non-genetically modified flowers, vegetables and herbs. Many asian and European varieties, as well as selections from the 19th century.
- Bountiful Gardens. Heirloom, Untreated, Open-Pollinated Sees for Sustainable Growing
- Seed Savers Exchange, a non-profit organization dedicated to saving and sharing heirloom seeds. Since 1975, members have been passing on our garden heritage by collecting and distributing thousands of samples of rare garden seeds to other gardeners. Visit their 890-acre Heritage Farm to see the group’s gorgeous preservation gardens, the source of the largest nongovernmental seed bank in the United States.
- Sustainable Seed Company. Sustainably-grown organic heirloom, non-GMO, vegetable, flower, grain, herb and cover-crop seeds.
- Johnny’s Selected Seeds Top-quality, non-hybrid products.
- Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
Though the group focuses primarily on plants suited to the Mid-Atlantic, it provides seeds, education and services for gardeners nationwide.
- Terroir Seeds/Underwood Gardens
Family owned and operated, Terroir Seeds and its associated gardens, Underwood Gardens, specialize in heirloom, organic and rare seeds, soil building and seed saving.
Why heirloom seeds? Before the industrialization of agriculture (generally before WWII), a much wider variety of plant foods were grown for human consumption. In modern agriculture in the industrialized world, most food crops are now grown in large, monocultural plots. In order to maximize consistency, few varieties of each type of crop are grown. These varieties are often selected or genetically modified (GMOs) for their productivity, their ability to withstand mechanical picking and cross-country shipping, and their tolerance to drought, frost, or pesticides. Because flavor and authenticity is usually lost in genetically modified varieties, as well as lack of biodiversity in our crops, many people have turned to heirloom varieties.
Heirloom seeds on the other hand are not genetically modified. Many heirloom seeds have been handed down from one family member to another for many generations. Heirlooms have adapted over time to whatever climate and soil they have grown in. Due to their genetics, they are often resistant to local pests, diseases, and extremes of weather. That being said, some varieties of heirloom seeds may not be suited for all growing locations, and may take a more experienced hand to grow.
The wondrous and great thing about heirloom seeds is that you can save seeds from your crops for the following year. Genetically modified seeds (hybrids) are not meant to be grown again – actually most won’t grow ‘true to type’ i.e. like their parent plant, or won’t grow at all, because of genetic modification branding them sterile for regrowth. In fact, it is illegal for farmers to replant genetically modified hybrid seeds – thereby making the necessity for the farmer to buy new seeds each passing year, and thus more dependent on monoculture global conglomerates.
Hardiness zones determine which plants will survive in which regions. The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture and the National Weather Service have identified these regions within North America. The Map has been updated as of 2012. Click on the map above to link to the USDA interactive site.
|Zone||Last Frost||First Frost|
Frost potential 365 days a year
|2||May 1-May 31||August 1-August 31|
|3||May 1-May 31||September 1-September 30|
|4||May 1-May 31||September 1-September 30|
|5||March 31-April 30||September 30-October 31|
|6||March 31-April 30||September 30-October 31|
|7||March 31-April 30||September 30-October 31|
|8||February 28-March 31||October 31-November 31|
|9||January 31-February 28||November 30-December 31|
|10||January 31-or before||November 30-December 31|
Always check with gas and electric companies before doing any extensive digging. There could be underground utility wiring or sewer pipes that could be life threatening if disturbed. Contact the following for more information:
- Digger, for use in Chicago, 312-744-7000. Call at least 2 days in advance of digging, to give utility companies a chance to come out to your site and mark the location of their lines.
- J.U.L.I.E. , 1-800-892-0123. Use J.U.L.I.E. for anywhere in the State of Illinois (except Chicago) to determine underground utuility and sewer lines before excavating