Neighbor Organizes Hamlin Park Community Garden

By Mike Fourcher | Thursday, April 21, 2011

The site of the future Seeley-George Community Garden. Credit: Aaron Salmon.

There’s two empty lots at 2025 W. George St., and Aaron Salmon’s got a green thumb aching to spruce them up. Since last fall Salmon’s been been organizing neighbors in the Hamlin Park area to build the George and Seeley Garden, as he’s calling it, and it looks like it just might grow into something this spring.

“I talked to the neighbor that lives right next to it, Gina, and she’s totally into it,” said Salmon. “Last fall we started putting things into motion, figuring out what we need to do, and it’s totally moving forward now.”

The land is divided into two irregularly-sized plots, one is owned by the city Department of Housing and Economic Development. Salmon’s gotten Ald. Joe Moreno’s blessing (1st), in whose ward the plot falls.

“I met with Ald. Joe Moreno,” said Salmon. “The neighbors on Seeley recently had a meeting and we were able to get in front of him and we were able to meet with the neighbors on Seeley. [Moreno's] excited about the garden.”

The second plot, the one on the corner, is owned by a private landowner who isn’t too hot on a community garden. “She’s not too receptive to the idea,” said Salmon. “I approached her, and she said that it’s not for me, since she pays taxes on the lot. It’s her granddaughter’s inheritance or something like that.”

Salmon, 35, who gained his gardening skills from growing up in rural Wisconsin, has an infectious enthusiasm. He’s a web designer who helped found local startup OhSoWe.com and designed Mayor-Elect Rahm Emanuel’s transition website. With a record like that, his “Let’s put on a show!” kind of attitude seems less naive and more shaming to life-long Chicagoans: Of course we can create a community garden in Chicago! Bureaucracy and grumpy land owners are just a temporary problem!

“We really want to get the corner lot,” Salmon says. “I’m guessing we’ll be able to come up with a strategy. Maybe we can have some schools or kids do programs there. Learn about the trees on the lot, water reclamation, that sort of thing. That would be great.”

Then, apropos of nothing: “Gina, who lives next door is going to donate the water.”

“We’re supporting his efforts,” said Matt Bailey, Ald. Moreno’s Communication’s Director. “We have 60-odd vacant lots in the ward. Rather than leave them vacant, we want people to use them and make them look good. So Ald. Moreno is a supporter of whatever people can do to make things better.”

Bailey didn’t know the status of permits for a community garden on the city land, but he did not think there would be any foreseeable problem.

Salmon is holding the first volunteer meeting on Saturday, April 30th at the garden site. “That’s going to be our first group event, where everyone who has expressed interest will talk about planning and lot clean-up.”

If you’re interested, you can fill out a volunteer form or call Salmon directly at (773) 336-2872.

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