An empty lot near the outskirts of Loyola’s Lake Shore Campus has been transformed into a community garden thanks to students and staff involved with the University’s Center for Urban Environmental Research and Policy (CUERP). The Urban Agriculture Demonstration Garden, located at the northwest corner of Winthrop Avenue and Loyola Avenue, is providing healthy food for residents of the Rogers Park neighborhood as part of an effort to increase environmental sustainability and energy efficiency.
Adam Schubel, a research associate for CUERP, started the garden in April with the help of students enrolled in the Solutions to Environmental Problems (STEP) courses. Schubel said the purpose of the garden is to expose students, the community, and the University, to some of the techniques that are emerging for producing food in cities.
The garden demonstrates small-scale urban agriculture practices, some of which are highly innovative and others that have been around for centuries.
“Ideally, the Urban Agriculture Demonstration site could be somewhat of a forum for the exchange of those ideas or techniques in the long run,” Schubel says.
A sign displayed at the garden informs passersby about the importance of the Urban Agriculture Demonstration Garden and its benefits for the community. The project’s mission is to reduce the strain that population growth and urbanization have put on our food system. According to CUERP, growing food naturally and locally cuts down on transportation, distribution, and processing, which account for 80 percent of consumer costs.
Students active in CUERP, STEP courses, or in Growers Guild, the University’s gardening club, have been primarily responsible for tending to the garden.
Samantha Baker, an undergraduate student majoring in environmental studies, has worked extensively with the site. She is currently interning with CUERP and caring for the crops during the garden’s first full growing season.
“The number one motivation is to increase green space on campus – more specifically, to increase useful green space that is not just for landscaping or for aesthetic purposes,” Baker says. “The garden is beautiful, which is a wonderful outcome, but ultimately we are using the space for growing organic vegetables, which decreases pollution from runoff and increases the abundance of fresh, healthy food to those who otherwise wouldn’t have access.”
The garden features a cornucopia of fruits and vegetables. Peppers, arugula, chard, broccoli, heirloom tomatoes, spinach, and other salad greens are sprouting from the raised beds. Many varieties of herbs including rosemary, oregano, lemon balm, mint, and parsley are also growing. Several fruit trees and perennial fruit crops have been planted in the lot as well.
All produce from the garden is being donated to A Just Harvest, a non-profit organization that works to reduce hunger and poverty in Rogers Park and the greater Chicagoland area. The group operates the largest soup kitchen in the city and distributes food monthly to more than 200 families.
Lane Vail, a research associate for CUERP, currently heads the Urban Agriculture Demonstration Garden.