I put this together for some folks I am talking with about collaborating in our East Side neighborhoods. I'm trying to focus on what works.
Gardening and Springfield’s East Side
Ideas for Collaboration
There are many grassroots, citizen-based projects in which gardening can be used as a tool to encourage
transformative change in Springfield’s East Side. We can look to what kinds of projects work, already
making a positive difference in other cities. We can look to our own visions, dreams, goals, and capabilities. What we want to see, we can make happen.
Cities have an interest in recovering blighted areas as quickly as possible, as their tax base is predicated on
healthy thriving communities with stable (or increasing) housing costs. When cities ignore blighted areas
long enough, a dysfunctional relationship often develops, with negative stereotypes abounding on both
sides. Blighted neighborhoods are often looked at as not deserving of assistance, while city leadership is
often viewed as insensitive, inaccessible, and generally not helpful.
Citizen-initiated restorative justice projects have many advantages, such as the ability to move with speed to accomplish goals, lack of impeding bureaucracy, the ability to work on relevant and meaningful projects,
and so on. The major inhibitor is lack of funding, which can be overcome with grants and networking,
especially when focused in the area of gardening.
Projects That Work
One benefit of looking to projects that work is that the organization, brainstorming, and kinks have already
been figured out. One detriment is that what works in one place may not be transferable to another. But,
inspiring ideas are handy, and creative minds can develop appropriate and effective tools that apply well to
1. Growing Power. Information below is from their web site, www.growingpower.org .
In 1993, Growing Power was an organization for teens who needed a place to work. Will Allen was a
farmer with land. Will designed a program that offered teens an opportunity to work at his store and
renovate greenhouses to grow food for their community. What started as a simple partnership to change
the landscape of the north side of Milwaukee has blossomed into a national and global commitment to
sustainable food systems.
Since its inception, Growing Power has served as a “living museum” or “idea factory” for the young, the
elderly, farmers, producers, and other professionals ranging from USDA personnel to urban planners.
Training areas include the following: acid-digestion, anaerobic digestion for food waste, bio-phyto
remediation and soil health, closed-loop aquaculture systems, vermiculture, small- and large-scale
composting, urban agriculture, permaculture, food distribution, marketing, value-added product
development, youth development, community engagement, participatory leadership development, and
Growing Power is a national nonprofit organization and land trust supporting people from diverse
backgrounds and the environments in which they live, by helping to provide equal access to healthy,
high-quality, safe, and affordable food for people in all communities. Growing Power implements this
mission by providing hands-on training, on-the-ground demonstration, and outreach and technical
assistance through the development of Community Food Systems that help people grow, process, market
and distribute food in a sustainable manner.
Growing Power's projects fall into four essential areas:
Grow - Projects and Growing Methods: Growing Power demonstrates their easy-to-replicate growing
methods through on-site workshops and hands-on demonstrations. They have farms in Milwaukee and
Merton, Wisconsin; and in Chicago, Illinois. Growing Power has also established satellite training sites in
Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Massachusetts, and Mississippi.
Bloom - Education and Technical Assistance: Growing Power educates folks through local, national,
and international outreach for farmers and communities. They also run multiple youth programs, have an
active volunteer base, and actively work on policy initiatives regarding agriculture.
Thrive - Food Production and Distribution: Food production occurs in the organization's
demonstration greenhouses, rural farm site in Merton, and urban farms in Milwaukee and Chicago. They
also distribute produce, grass-fed meats, and value-added products through the activities of over 300 small
family farmers in the Rainbow Farmers Cooperative, and the organization's year-round food security
program, the Farm-to-City Market Basket Program.
Food Policy: Growing Power is actively trying to change how our food system is structured through
critical policy changes. They are active members of the Growing Food and Justice for All initiative, the
Chicago Food Policy Advisory Council, and the Illinois Local and Organic Food and Farm Task Force.
2. Fuller Park Community Development (FPCD), Eden Place Nature Center. Eden Place, a wildlife
preserve and nature education center, was formerly an abandoned lot filled with lead and asbestos. The
neighborhood cleaned up the site themselves, relying on donated equipment and hauling services. It now
features a prairie, wetlands, nature pond, savanna, Indian village, farmyard with farm animals, and extensive vegetable gardens–all on one city lot. Information below is from their website, www.fullerpark.com .
Eden Place is a doorway for the Southside residents of Chicago to the world of nature, providing a live
simulation of a nature preserve using a bio-diversified environment exploring the mechanics of a wetland,
prairie, and woodland, and supplemented with multimedia and live presentations to spark the imaginations
of children. Holding science, writing and art classes daily in a real nature center helps enhance a child’s
learning experience dramatically.
Fuller Park Community Development’s mission is threefold. They work to address the housing, education
and environmental issues that have kept communities in poverty, disrepair, and illiterate for over four
decades. A major portion of their mission is to equip residents who are at the bottom of Chicago's
economic ladder with information and education that provides them with the tools necessary to help move
out of poverty.
Education: FPCD works to reduce the high unemployment, illiteracy and lack of technology in the
neighborhood through their Community Adult Learning Center South Point Academy. South Point
Academy training consists of Family Literacy, Pre-GED, Computer Literacy, and Construction trade skills.
Housing: As a local Housing Resource Center for the City of Chicago's Department of Housing, FPCD
develops and provides affordable housing for low- and very low-income families in the neighborhood. They
facilitate tenant- and community-based meetings. They train local residents how to establish tenant
associations, aid in the management of the buildings in which they live, and how to build and maintain
Environmental: Eden Place Nature Center is FPCD’s answer to a 1997 report by the City of Chicago
citing Fuller Park as the most lead-contaminated neighborhood in the city. Eden Place Nature Center is
dedicated to educating community children and their parents about the environment in which they live and
how to better protect themselves from pollutants and hazards. Earth sciences and land stewardship are
3. Philadelphia Green. Information below is from their website, www.pennsylvaniahorticulturalsociety.org .
A program of the Pennsylvania Horticulture Society, Philadelphia Green is the nation’s most comprehensive
urban greening program. Since 1974, Philadelphia Green has supported the development and ongoing care
of community gardens, neighborhood parks and high-profile public green spaces in Philadelphia. Working
in partnership with neighborhood residents, community organizations and city agencies, the program uses
greening as a community building tool. It educates and empowers people to make the city a more attractive
and livable place through horticulture.
Philadelphia Green focuses on people who want to make a difference, and vacant lots. Joining the two has
led to remarkable results: an increasingly livable city with a high quality of life, and a bridging of the gap
between blight and the powers that be. Since 2000, Philadelphia Green has stabilized more than 3 million
square feet of vacant land, equivalent to 69 acres. Philadelphia has some 50,000 vacant lots, more than any other large city. The city is partnering with communities to develop vacant land into something valuable, from lot-sized green spaces and parks, to an inner city hydroponic vegetable farm that provides food to the neighborhood.
Note: There is already a Springfield Green, although I do not see much connection between it and
Philadelphia Green, especially in the focus area of revitalizing low-income neighborhoods.
4. The City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program (MAP). Information below is from their website,
“In the heart of community revitalization is in our ability to touch people’s hearts and souls, and I think that
art can do that. Art has a profound impact on people.” —Jane Golden, Director of MAP
MAP is one of the nation's largest public arts initiatives of its kind. Its mission is to engage in art education
and community public art collaborations, and to increase public access to art. Since the Mural Arts Program
began, they have produced over 2,800 murals and educated over 20,000 underserved youth in
neighborhoods throughout Philadelphia.
The Mural Arts Program began in 1984 as a component of the Philadelphia Anti-Graffiti Network, an effort
to eradicate the graffiti crisis plaguing the city. The Anti-Graffiti Network hired muralist Jane Golden to
reach out to graffiti writers to redirect their energies from destructive graffiti writing to constructive mural
painting. Mural-making provided a support structure for these young men and women to develop their
artistic skills, empowering them to take an active role in beautifying their communities. In 1996, the City of
Philadelphia announced that the Anti-Graffiti Network would be reorganized into the Mural Arts Program
with Golden as the director. At the same time, Golden established a nonprofit organization, the
Philadelphia Mural Arts Advocates, to raise funds and provide other support to the nationally-recognized
program. Today's Mural Arts Program is an innovative and successful public/private partnership that
encompasses both the city agency and the nonprofit.
Note: While I’m not convinced graffiti is the root of all evil, if you get a chance to look online at these
murals (or in the book Edens Lost and Found), you may be amazed at the provocative feelings they stir up.
Can you imagine the weedy vacant lot at 12th and South Grand with an eye-catching spirited mural, with
families below enjoying their neighborhood green space, full of beauty and restoration? I think it’d be a
functional and much-needed blessing to the neighborhood, and more effective than another useless parking
5. Norris Square Neighborhood Project (NSNP). Information below is from their website, www.nsnp.com .
NSNP was founded in 1973 by Natalie Kempner, a fifth grade teacher in North Philadelphia. NSNP began
as a small project created to help educate and protect children living in a section of Philadelphia that was
notorious for its deadly drug culture. Over more than three decades, the agency's work has grown in scope
and impact as the predominately Latino community around it has expanded and flourished. The
environmental, arts and education programs of NSNP have helped transform the surrounding community
and the lives of Norris Square residents.
NSNP provides community residents with quality youth programs including free after-school care, a
low-cost summer camp and teen employment, environmental education, cultural programs for
neighborhood women, and community gardening/neighborhood beautification initiatives. The ongoing
work of NSNP has dramatically improved the community landscape while also winning awards. NSNP has
so far transformed 50 abandoned neighborhood lots into gardens.
An example of NSNP’s programming: “NSNP's Summer Day Camp is the highlight of the year. The theme
this year is "Insects and Bugs!" Youth ages 5-14 experience Puerto Rican culture, cooking, environmental
education, gardening, cultural exploration, community service, literacy, language arts, youth leadership
development and teaching artists. The program also includes weekly field trips and a 4-day overnight
6. Community Gardens. There are many ways of organizing community gardens. One is to take a vacant
space, mark off plots, and rent them to community members who grow food for their own use. This is the
approach of the Department of Agriculture on the city’s fairgrounds, which has rented out all its available
plots this year. You can take it as far as you want from there. The remainder of this Project That Works is my own vision of our neighborhoods, based on pieces of many ideas that have come up in my observation
The Eastside Neighborhood Development Plan commissioned by the City of Springfield, and completed in
2002, noted that the area under study was blighted to the point of “rivaling some largely abandoned
neighborhoods in larger urban areas (i.e., Chicago)”. The study noted that “municipal attention is
warranted” regarding the quality of housing and the “significant state of decline” of the focus area:
“Without aggressive action, the [focus] Neighborhood will decline further and massive clearance and
relocation of site occupants is likely to be required.” It was also observed that “the area is not served by an
appropriate amount of public parks or playgrounds. The only ones noted in the area are associated with
Obviously, the East side of Springfield holds an abundance of vacant lots, and not enough green space.
According to the above-referenced urban development plan (published in 2002), the “City acquires
land/lots from houses demolished by the City or containing City liens and offers lots at little or no cost to
developers, not-for-profits, and residents for development of new affordable housing or businesses.” I
would hope green space and parks fits that definition as well, but entrepreneurial food gardens certainly fit. Vacant lots are often sold in property auctions in early summer, with the minimum $600 per lot bid being a typical selling price on the east side.
I envision vacant lots being acquired through purchase or donation, and transformed by the residents of the
neighborhood into a variety of beautiful and functional places, from places where children can play and
experience a natural environment first-hand, to gardens which provide food for local residents of food
deserts. Gardens could easily be for-profit while still providing affordable food to the neighborhood.
Growing Power’s weekly shares (CSA) program provides a large amount of food for a very affordable price
(much more affordable than anything I’ve seen in or near Springfield).
An entrepreneurial gardening enterprise is easy to build with low start-up costs, given the emphasis on (self)
labor, especially if tools are available on a community rental basis. The city also (as of 2002) provides low
interest loans of no greater than $10,000 for job creation, as part of their Micro-Enterprise Loan Program.
Such entrepreneurial gardens could then provide internships for neighborhood youth, passing on needed
knowledge and skills to enable yet more citizens to garden, to increase fresh and local food supply while
gaining access to the financial world that so many lack.
A CSA is one way to market fresh produce. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, and it is a
pre-paid farm and neighborhood connection. Families purchase shares for the coming year, giving a farmer
money to begin planting. The farmer provides food throughout the year, usually either a certain size (a box), by weight (20-25 pounds for a big family, 10 pounds for a small family or individual), or by variety (6-10 vegetables and 2-4 fruits per week, for example). Sometimes CSAs will take payments on a weekly basis. Typically, produce may be picked up at an urban farm, or the farmer will deliver it to a set delivery point, and each individual or family will pick up their produce there.
Another way to market fresh produce is through farmers markets. Springfield is currently home to two
farmers markets, which is relatively fewer than expected given a city of this size. Easily, Springfield could
support more farmers markets, especially neighborhood-centered farmers markets. In our poverty-stricken
neighborhoods, Link card access to farmers markets is vital. Can you imagine food grown by neighborhood
people, physically in the community, with neighborhood folks coming to purchase the produce at a
neighborhood farmers market? Dollars spent by neighborhood folks at neighborhood businesses means
that the money stays in our community longer, enriching us all eventually.
An added bonus of all this fresh and local food floating around is that our community gets increased green
space, the heat island effect is lessened, enjoyable employment is available for young and old alike, contact
with natural environments is a reality, property values increase, and the neighborhood becomes desirable
The City of Springfield
The City of Springfield has not followed the recommendations given it by the Eastside Neighborhood
Development Plan (that I can see, to any meaningful end). There is a lack of emphasis on infrastructure
maintenance and repair, green spaces and parks, and community in general. Shiny facades and parking lots
seem to be the City’s primary interest in revitalizing Springfield’s east side. Is the City interested in grass-
roots projects to revitalize neighborhoods? I have only recently discovered a contact within the city
government, and I am still getting a feel for what this means. But personally, I think revitalization can still
occur, with or without the assistance of the city.
Tools can be solicited through donations, recovered from the waste stream, purchased with grant money, or
found through friend networks. I have a few farmer friends, as well as a plethora of contacts with yard
gardeners. I do not anticipate tools being a limiting factor.
Many gardening grants are available, large and small, depending on the scope of the project. Off the top of
my head, I can think of three gardening grants: Gardenburger’s Community Garden Grant, the Fiskars
Project Orange Thumb Grant, and The Green Effect Grant. NCR SARE (North Central Region
Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education) also offers grants, and a Springfield-based staff member
has offered her assistance in finding grants for whatever we would need. (Food Not Lawns has not needed
significant money for any projects to date.) I also have contacts within the Illinois Stewardship Alliance.
Although the ISA does not provide grants, they have offered their services as a fiscal agent to my grassroots
organization without official paperwork, as they most likely would to any community organization focused
on food issues.
As part of Food Not Lawns, I organize monthly educational meetings on a variety of gardening-, food-, and
health-related topics. Often, I present these topics myself, as there are not a lot of people in the Springfield area that are willing to share relevant knowledge and skills to a group of interested people. I am. My husband and/or I teach classes, for free, on such subjects as: comprehensive basic gardening, advanced gardening techniques, diy urban homesteading, vermicomposting (composting with worms), composting and soil building, fermentation basics, and introduction to permaculture. We make ourselves available to any interested audience.
Springfield-Based Food-Focused Organizations
Buy Fresh Buy Local
Food Not Lawns
Gen H (Generation Healthy) Coalition
Illinois Stewardship Alliance
Slow Food Springfield
Why Gardening and Why Now?
Food has quickly become a grassroots political issue, as well as a personal and community issue. The
nutritional quality of food has deteriorated as the so-called green agricultural scientific movement has
advanced. Most foods purchased through a grocery store travel an average of 1500 miles from industrial
farm (with large petroleum inputs) to table. Many items in our food supply are contaminated with
genetically modified organisms, without our knowledge. “Fresh” produce does not taste like it used to, as
produce for shipment has been bred to prolong shelf life, instead of being bred to taste good.
Access to fresh organic food is denied in many food deserts, and East Springfield certainly qualifies as that.
There is one corner grocery store that I am familiar with (Humphreys Market), although they do not offer
much in the way of fresh organic produce. I know of no other inner city grocery store that provides fresh
produce. While the Downtown Springfield farmers market is a boon to those living in a food desert, they
do not take the Link card, effectively denying access to fresh local food to many people in poverty.
(Apparently grants are available that double the value of EBT cards for people who are patrons of farmers
markets.) Access to fresh local humanely and naturally raised meat is also restricted.
Food is personal, and as people become more educated on the issue of food, they are taking another look at
what sustains them in their daily lives. An increasing number of people in Springfield are planting gardens,
often for the first time. Their reasons vary from taste and nutrition to beauty and economic necessity.
Food Not Lawns was created to assist citizens of Springfield in converting bioconcrete (lawns) to edible
resources, with a view to introducing permaculture design techniques along with holistic organic gardening
“Planting a street tree increases the value of nearby homes by 15 percent. Turning a blighted vacant lot into a clean and green space increases the value of adjacent homes by 30 percent.” —Sarah Wachter, 2005 study in New Kensington, PA (near Philadelphia)
A single mature urban tree reduced CO2 by about 115 pounds per year, and can hold about 50,000 gallons
of water in its roots (mitigating both global warming and urban flooding).
Drivers tend to slow down on tree-lined streets, important especially in an area with limited sidewalks, as
well as a lack of parks and green spaces.
A study conducted by U of I at Champaign-Urbana found that inner city girls who are exposed to nature
tend to exhibit higher self-discipline and avoid risky behaviors.
Harvard criminologist Dr. Felton Earls documented in a study based in Chicago that there were 56% fewer
violent crimes and 48% fewer property crimes in public housing apartment buildings when they were
surrounded by landscaping, as compared to when they were not.