CHICAGO (CBS) — The CBS 2 Morning Insiders were there recently as a West Loop community garden was shut down when rats were found in the space.
But there are hundreds of gardens in our urban environment, and Morning Insider Vince Gerasole went looking for solutions to doing neighborhood gardening right.
In a corner of Englewood, a community garden grows with purpose.
“We’re living in a food desert, so this is insurance for us,” said Cordia Pugh, founding director of the Hermitage Community Garden, at 5647 S. Hermitage Ave. “This is not hobby gardening. This is food security.”
At the garden, once-troubled vacant lots bloom with flowers and fresh vegetables.
“Vince, gardens are going to be game changers,” Pugh told Gerasole.
Neighbors come together at the garden not just to grow food, but to enjoy community.
“As a result of climate change, we are going to have to grow more of our own food hyperlocal,” Pugh said.
Pugh and the others who work in the garden have learned a lot about doing things the right way since the first shovels hit the dirt in 2011.
“The first three years we gardened here, we had no idea what the soil analysis was,” Pugh said. “We took soil analysis, and the metal and iron were off the scale.”
To remediate, they replaced all their dirt with a fresh two-foot layer of soil, and their deep 24-inch beds sit on top of that.
“In 15 days, I can get color,” Pugh said. “In 15 days, I can get bud heads.”
When vegetables seemed a little lackluster, gardeners learned to add flowers to the mix, so as to better attract the pollinators that help them grow more robust now.
“So if the butterflies don’t come; if the bees don’t come – even flies are pollinators, which I didn’t know,” Pugh said. “Ugh, right?”
And speaking of, they work at keeping rats at bay in the urban environment. Signs remind neighbors to pick up their pets’ mess – which could attract rodents.
Meanwhile, compost heaps are “self-contained” – limited to plants, dirt, and leaves from the garden – while processed items from elsewhere go in the trash.
“Rats are like you. They savor salt. They savor oils. They savor processed food,” Pugh said. “They don’t want your green veggies.”
“At last count, there were 280 community gardens in the city of Chicago and they produced about 259 tons of crops – and those crops have a value of over $1.6 million.
“We are an organic garden, that we don’t introduce any pesticides; insecticides,” Pugh said, “We use organic practices only.
Pugh’s organic pesticide – a mix of olive oil, red peppers, and garlic – smells a little like an Italian salad. The garden also uses non-GMO seeds and collects rainwater in basins to promote conservation.
These are all practices Pugh says can grow on any community gardener.
“Get involved in best practices that will sustain the garden and help the garden to be green and grow.
Back in the West Loop, the community garden that was shut down has since passed its health inspection and is now open for growing.