In Rogers Park, kids — and their plants —
Businesses unite to help neighborhood group show kids how to run a greenhouse and plant flora along Howard Street
By Jennifer Day, Special to the Tribune
May 19, 2010
Devon Lovell surveyed the half-dozen third- and fourth-graders squirming in their chairs after a long day of school. We've got some important work today," said Lovell, director of community tutoring for the nonprofit Family Matters. "I need an aphid-killing squad."
Demaya Cattouse, 9, had already been recruited to spray diluted dish soap on plants to fend off the bugs. It didn't take long for two boys to pipe up, plaintively echoing each other: "I want to work on aphids!"
The children are among 30 students working in the Gale Math and Science Academy's greenhouse to beautify Howard Street in Rogers Park. With $6,000 in funding from the Howard Street Special Service Area 19, the Rogers Park Business Alliance has paid for an afterschool gardening program to grow and plant flowers along the street between Ridge Avenue and Sheridan Road.
The business group contracted with Neighbors United in New Possibilities, a nonprofit organization that worked with a local school council to convert the greenhouse from storage space to a hands-on learning resource, said John Hoekwater, director of Neighbors United. Participants include students from Gale in the Family Matters All-Grow tutoring program and Jordan School in the Howard Area Community Center's after-school program.
"It's another local investment in the community," said Kimberly Bares, executive director of the Rogers Park Business Alliance. "This is a great opportunity to hire local talent essentially as vendors." Neighbors United volunteers built the seven growing tables that crowd the Gale greenhouse floor. Hanging baskets overflow with basil, chives, cilantro and tomato plants. The greenhouse's first planting yielded nearly 3,000 plants, Hoekwater said.
In years past, the greenhouse has sold plants to support itself, but it's been difficult to predict what customers will buy, he said. One year, volunteers planted 100 hanging baskets but sold only 30. The contract will provide the program with as much as 95 percent of the funding it needs.
Students and parents who work in the greenhouse receive credits for each hour at a rate of $8 an hour, Hoekwater said. The credits help send kids on a gardening-themed field trip and buy supplies for an outdoor parent garden.
The credits are a way to help families feel more invested, said Gregory Roberts, who has three nieces and nephews at Gale. A dozen parents are involved in the outdoor garden, he said. Last year, Neighbors United worked with families to plant an outdoor garden but gave up midway through the summer when students and parents stopped watering it.
The planters in the Howard corridor also will feature signs to foster community pride by advertising that the planters are maintained by Rogers Park students.
"We want people to care for the plants," Hoekwater said. "Maybe [the signs] will help people think twice before they drop their trash or pull out plants. It's about creating a sense of ownership."
Back in the greenhouse, Lovell has pointed out aphids colonizing a squash blossom.
"How dare they? That's real, real disgusting," Demaya said, aiming her water bottle. "They're harming the beautiful flowers."
Since moving the tutoring program into the greenhouse, Lovell said, it's been easier to engage the students, who are too antsy to sit still in a classroom. The curriculum, which incorporates food and nutrition, is based in problem-solving and group activities.
"We've seen a lot more social and emotional growth as a result," Lovell said, "and the kids do have a much better sense of where food comes from and the idea of nutrition."
Now that Latarick Foreman, 10, knows that, he has plans.
"Instead of us buying food, we can just grow it," he said.
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