RAVENSWOOD — Metra riders' woes have been a blessing in disguise to gardeners in the Ravenswood area.
The transit agency's years-long construction work on its Union Pacific North line may have snarled more than a few folks' commutes but in replacing bridges and rebuilding retaining walls from Balmoral to Grace, Metra also created improved green space along Ravenswood Avenue.
As part of its landscaping contract, Metra provided a new community garden adjacent to the tracks between Montrose and Berteau avenues, where vegetable plots are now available to neighbors.
"When you look at the square footage of the ward, there's not a lot of open space," said Dara Salk, a member of the 47th Ward staff. "We want to have the community use this space instead of it being a fly-by."
Salk and a hardy band of volunteers have been meeting weekly, prepping the area now officially known as the Montrose Metra Community Gardens.
Renee Patten is among those who's pitched in with some sweat equity.
Patten is an employee at Meeting Tomorrow, 1802. W. Berteau Ave., which lost the use of a grassy knoll along the tracks during the Metra construction.
The company's community service committee — a group of "doers" — took on the garden as a project.
"We used to have lunch and meetings outside," said Patten. "My main goal was pretty selfish — to get my lunch spot back."
Joking aside, Patten, though relatively new to gardening, has quickly become passionate about growing things.
"I maxed out my plants at home," she said, and now has a new playground.
Vegetable plots, which include soil and a water hook-up, cost $75 for individuals or $150 for businesses. The fee helps support maintenance of the garden. Six of the plots will provide fresh produce to area food pantries: the Lincoln Square Friendship Center, Common Pantry and Ravenswood Community Services.
Newbie gardeners should keep an eye out for Kasey Eaves who originally hails from southern Illinois and boasts a wealth of expertise.
"I grew up canning all my own produce," she said.
Eaves manages Fountainhead's kitchen garden — she already has 36 blooming tomato plants — and has claimed a pair of plots at Montrose Metra for Fountainhead and the coming-eventually Northman cider bar.
"We're going to be doing a lot of greens," said Eaves.
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