Cultivating Community at the Altgeld Sawyer Corner Farm

Altgeld Sawyer Corner Farm - Gardening
Everyone helps to grow and expand the garden with their unique attributes. Photo: Altgeld Sawyer Corner Farm

The Altgeld Sawyer Corner Farm (@CornerFarmChgo, Altgeld and Sawyer) was started as a community experiment—a collaborative venture, with everyone helping to grow and share in the harvest. We grow edible plants for food, beautiful flowers and plants that can make fibers and dye cloth. However, one unique aspect of our community farm is that we don’t designate plots for individuals or families. Instead we work together to cultivate, not just a garden, but a community.

Altgeld Sawyer Corner Farm - Garden Plot
Plots aren’t designated to individuals or families; instead everyone shares in the gardening duties. Photo: Altgeld Sawyer Corner Farm

We partner with Christopher House—a not-for-profit organization serving low-income families in the neighborhood—and contribute to their food pantry. We have a goal of saving approximately half our harvest for the Christopher House pantry, with the rest of our bounty going to neighbors that participate in the garden.

On Saturday, we kicked off the fourth season of our experiment! With more neighbors than ever getting involved, we’re growing our community together and helping a good cause.

Going into this season, there’s more to do. One of our projects a few weeks ago involved fixing up a couple of beds that have started to warp and decay. These signs of age are also a sign of growth—when I patched up a bed on the northern side of the farm, I thought not just of an abstract bit of dirt, but of the beans, chard and collards we’ve grown there over the years.

Altgeld Sawyer Corner Farm - Compost
This year, we’ve added more compost bins, due to demand. Photo: Altgeld Sawyer Corner Farm

And that succession of crops represents the successes we’ve had. We started out with soil so clay-based that you’d be more likely to make a coffee mug for your mom than grow basil. Each year, we’ve taken steps to improve the soil—through compost donations, purchases and from our own, ever-growing community composting system. Due to community demand, this year we’re expanding to four composters—helping our neighbors be more green and improving soil for our harvests.

Altgeld Sawyer Corner Farm - Gardeners
At the Altgeld Sawyer Corner Farm, we’re not just growing plants, we’re cultivating community. Photo: Altgeld Sawyer Corner Farm

Our Corner Farm has grown from a few neighbors thrilled about a couple sprigs of basil to a true community farm that provides much-needed produce to support local families in need. And we are always looking for new people to dig in with us and share our harvest.

At the beginning of each season, we always have folks turn up who say, “I’d love to help, but I just don’t know anything about gardening.” And you know what? Neither did we when started.

But over the years, we’ve learned that, yes, you really shouldn’t put five tomato plants in a 4×4-foot bed no matter how much you’d like to; that we’re as good at growing beans as we are at drinking beer (which is to say, great); and that cabbage aphids are jerks and deserve a good blast with the hose set to power wash.

Altgeld Sawyer Corner Farm - Herb Harvest
The garden offers food, flowers and plants for fibers. Herbs are already ready for harvesting. Photo: Altgeld Sawyer Corner Farm

What we’ve really learned is that each person brings something new to the farm—something we didn’t know before, whether it’s garden-related or not.

We hope to see all of you this summer, whether you can help out on a regular basis, stop by for a workday or just say hello as you meander by. We’re helping to grow community as much as we are growing food and flowers—and for that, we need everyone’s help.

Our compost opens for the season tonight, Wednesday, May 2 from 6:30 pm to 7:30 pm. And we’d love your help this Saturday, May 5 from 9am to 1pm, as we make soil amendments, spread woodchips and get seedlings in the ground!

To get involved, stop byemail us or visit our website for a calendar of garden days.

» Socialize with Altgeld Sawyer Corner Farm | • @CornerFarmChgo •


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