MCKINLEY PARK — The overgrown vacant lot was littered with debris and weeds. A few beer bottles here, a few grocery bags there.
“It’s not much to look at. But it’s where the dream starts,” said Corenna Roozeboom, who’s leading an effort to start a community garden in the 1900 block of West Pershing Road. “It’s kind of an eyesore, and we want to turn it into something beautiful."
The property, a blocks-long stretch between Winchester and Wolcott avenues, is owned by a Chinatown restaurateur and has been vacant for about 25 years, she said.
Roozeboom, 27, has quietly been building interest in beginning a garden somewhere in the area for about a year. She said she was assisted by staffers with Alderman George Cardenas’ (12th) office, who helped secure the lot with an agreement allowing the gardeners use it until a buyer for the property comes along.
Earlier this month, Roozeboom led an introductory meeting to gauge the neighborhood's interest. Roughly 20 people turned out, with nearly 20 more signing up for more information on the group’s new website.
Starting this spring, their goal is to grow all organic produce in 4-by-8 raised beds, available for reservation at a cost of $50 per bed. Eventually, she hopes the garden will expand to include wildflowers, beekeeping and a gathering space with benches.
For Roozeboom, a master gardening student who helps run the Chicago Park District’s Harvest Garden program, the idea is to create a true community space with involvement from the community’s Hispanic and Asian population and the nearby Namaste Charter School.
"Community involvement is the most important part of keeping this sustainable," she said.