ROGERS PARK — Big hopes, ideas — and soon a few plants, too — are in full bloom at Gale Elementary School in Rogers Park as the school celebrates winning nearly $200,000 to fund community projects at its garden.
Gale, 1631 W. Jonquil Terrace, recently learned it would receive $120,000 of that money through participatory budgeting in the 49th Ward, which allows community groups to pitch and vote on projects that can be financially supported through the ward.
The money will go toward adding a stage, picnic tables, a walking labyrinth, a "You Are Beautiful" fence affirmation, planters, decorative pathways and more to a Learning Garden at the school, available for all community members to enjoy.
The features will be built around a bounty of melons, pumpkins, strawberries, cucumbers, beans, herbs and lettuce which that be maintained, harvested and eaten by Gale students and other neighbors.
That list soon will include fruit trees for a mini-urban orchard courtesy of Openlands.
Tonia Andreina, director of A Just Harvest's Genesis Project, and who helps spearhead Gale's garden programming, said her eyes welled with tears as she turned to a student from the garden club who was with her and shared the news.
"I'm like, 'That's us buddy,' and I gave a him a high-five," she said. "He's like, 'We won?' and I said, 'We won.'"
Moments earlier the pair had called Principal Augustine Emuwa, who was running late to the budget announcement event, so he could listen in as winning projects were announced. He was in "disbelief," he said.
"When I got there, I could just really feel the energy in the room that we had left our mark behind in that space, it was awesome" Emuwa said. "It just comes at the perfect time; it seems like a wave of goodness is happening."
Tonia Andreina (left), interim Principal Augustine Emuwa (middle) and garden club student Christian Garcia, along with two others from the school, celebrate Gale's participatory budgeting win. [Provided]
Gale is also in the process of installing another new aspect of the garden thanks to a grant worth roughly $75,000 from Kitchen Community Chicago, a group that helps add gardens to Chicago Public Schools.
Though the organization typically applies its own designs to winning schools, when Andreina asked if it could be designed by students, most of whom live within blocks of Gale, Kitchen Community agreed.
The garden will grow and support different foods the garden club students will be able to use for its weekly cooking class component, following the food from seedlings to entrees.
Two days each week, a group of about 10 students meet to plant, nourish, grow, harvest, cook and learn about flora and food through the garden club, which also includes a lush greenhouse.
The school's garden serves not only to provide kids and community members with the obvious — plants, food and beauty — but also to provide a hands-on learning experience to gain knowledge on the environment that all residents can benefit from in some way, Andreina said.
It's also part of Emuwa's vision for Gale's rebirth, one which focuses on highlighting the exciting and positive aspects of the neighborhood north of Howard Street, an area working to overcome its tough reputation.
"You hook people with the pride piece, the fact that this is going to be an amazing space ... it's going to be something that activates your eye in this community," Emuwa said. "Then you sneak in the learning component to give people an understanding that regardless of where you come from, regardless that this is the poor end of Rogers Park, at the end of the day we can still produce something and we can cultivate."
The principal said among his primary purposes at Gale is to "re-instill pride," a goal currently unfolding through the garden.
"If there's anything that I wanted to accomplish at this school, it was hope, it was ... we have something we can believe in," he said. "I know this school is going to be the anchor of this community. ... We have hope because we have pride in who we are."