AUBURN GRESHAM —The Woodlawn Community Development Corporation, a South Side housing manager and developer, is going beyond just being a landlord with an ambitious plan to develop several urban gardens at residential properties it manages.
A pilot garden is under construction at the Anchor House, 1230 W. 76th St., and is expected to be completed in August.
Alex Poltorak, founder and CEO of The Urban Canopy, which is building the pilot garden, said construction is expected to begin next year for five more gardens at the South Park Plaza, Jackson Park Terrace, Farrell House, Berry Manor, and Park Shore East, all senior buildings.
"Farming is my life. It is what I love to do. The goal for this and other gardens is to provide healthier eating choices for local residents, who seem to be surrounded by fast-food places," said the 29-year-old former computer engineer. "There's no processing involved when eating from a garden. Just rinse, cook and eat."
Monica Green, 51, has lived at the Anchor House for 17 years and said she enjoys working in the garden and teaching kids about the value of growing your own food.
"This is how I was raised in the South. There was no eating at restaurants back in those days," Green recalled. "In Mississippi you got down on your hands and knees and planted vegetables. My dad was a landscaper and I worked with my mom on the farm. Now I want to show the younger folks how to grow your own food."
Young children like Jerome Anderson, 9, joined Green Thursday in the garden.
"I like the way everything looks," said the fourth-grader at John Fiske Elementary School. "My favorite vegetable is corn. That's what I plan on growing next summer."
Rayshawn Lee, 4, said she likes to water the plants in the gardens.
"Water is good for everything. My mom uses water to cook almost everything we eat," Lee said. "This plant was not this tall last week but after I kept putting water on it all of a sudden it started growing."
The urban gardens are the brainchild of development corporation founder the Rev. Leon Finney.
"We want to encourage our communities to eat healthy and when possible, grow their own food,” said Finney, who is also pastor of the Metropolitan Apostolic Community Church in Bronzeville.
Katie Williams, 30, is assisting Poltorak with building the garden, which he estimates will cost $6,000 to complete. She runs her own garden in Humboldt Park.
"I came to help Alex with this farm. He got me interested in gardens a few years ago, and I have been stuck ever since," Williams said. "My garden, Patchwork Farm, is small much like this one, but smaller gardens are sometimes better because they are easier to manage."
Finney added that he founded the Woodlawn Community Development Corporation in 1972 to provide affordable housing in economically diverse communities and inspire a sense of collective urban pride and social responsibility in Chicago neighborhoods.
“An urban farm provides our residents with a new way to engage with one another around nature and food. We are excited to provide this new outlet for our residents," Finney said.