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Take Produce as You Please at Fire Station Park's Lincoln Park Open Garden

By Mina Bloom | August 11, 2015 6:24am
 The open garden at Fire Station Park, 1900 N. Larrabee St.
The open garden at Fire Station Park, 1900 N. Larrabee St.
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LINCOLN PARK — At most community gardens across the city, gardeners take home what they grow. Plucking a tomato from someone else's plant is not just frowned upon — it's against the rules. 

But at the lush Fire Station Park, 1900 N. Larrabee St., anyone who happens to be walking by is encouraged to responsibly pluck herbs and vegetables to incorporate in a home-cooked meal.

The open community garden, which grows everything from rosemary to radishes, was developed by a couple of members of the Lincoln Central Association, the neighborhood group that manages the park.

Tomatoes at Fire Station Park's open garden. [Both photos Courtesy/Lincoln Central Association]

Markers indicate where herbs like mint and lavender are being grown. 

"It seemed natural. As a public park, it was the neighborhood's to enjoy and draw the fruit from," said Sally Drucker, a board member with the association who helped spearhead the project. Kathy Jordan, another group member, was also instrumental in building the garden.

The association took over management of the park in 2010 after years of neglect. With help from then-43rd Ward alderman Vi Daley, landscape architecture firm Hoerr Schaudt and other organizations like Openlands, the neighborhood group gave the park a makeover by planting native plants and the aforementioned vegetable garden. The renovation was funded through Daley's infrastructure budget and donations.

From the beginning, Drucker knew she wanted to keep the garden open, and not "exclusive in any way," she said. That way, folks in the neighborhood would feel organically inclined to become involved in the process and volunteer.

"I wanted it to be an educational opportunity for families and elderly in the neighborhood, letting people pick things as they mature," she said, adding that she hopes people will take the skills back to their own homes.

Plus, joining a traditional community garden can sometimes seem overwhelming, Drucker said. She's heard people say, "I don't have enough time to commit a number of hours to it, and 'Oh gosh, I don't think I'll do it.'"

At Fire Station Park's garden, residents can volunteer as little or as much as they'd like — or not at all. 

So far Drucker said she hasn't witnessed a lot of residents plucking plants. She suspects some people fear they're encroaching on someone else's garden. But occasionally when she's out there gardening every other day she'll notice less herbs. And there are a lot of vegetable plants that are just beginning to bear fruit since Chicago saw a really rainy start to summer.

"A number of people say, 'It's not mine, so I don't feel good about taking it.' Some people feel comfortable picking. It's still a matter of getting the word out and having people respect it," she said.

That means not pulling out plants by the roots, and carefully plucking vegetables from the end of their stems. Herbs can easily be clipped using scissors, she said.

For those who would like to learn more, Drucker said she could use a lot more volunteers. But if you simply need a few more ingredients for dinner, don't hesitate to wander through and pick out some fresh vegetables and herbs.

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