Spotlight on Youth Gardens: Chicago Youth Center

By Julie Parker-Dickerson

In a crime-ridden neighborhood in Chicago, the Chicago Youth Center's (CYC) Sunshine Garden, a recipient of the National Gardening Association's 2014 Youth Garden Grant, provides a safe haven for young gardeners and their families. Located next to the ABC Polk Brothers Community Center in Chicago's North Lawndale neighborhood, the garden was once a vacant lot filled with garbage and overgrown vegetation. Now in its fourth year, the Sunshine Garden, with help of National Gardening Association's youth garden grants, has grown from just 15 participants in 2012 to over 70 children and teens actively working in the garden space.

The program connects garden activities with academic enrichment, making direct connections to core subject areas while engaging youth in growing food, composting, vermicomposting, and learning to effectively use the garden space. ″Programs provided by CYC support youth and their family members. These programs include licensed Head Start and after-school programs, summer residential and day camp experiences, in addition to a full menu of teen programs,″ says Kimberly George, CYC's garden coordinator. ″The CYC youth garden is a project adopted by the entire center.″

The garden space includes two bookcases up-cycled into raised beds where participants have successfully grown zucchini, strawberries, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, lettuce, cilantro, and an assortment of flowers. New additions to the garden include a dedicated ″digging area″ for young children, and a strawberry patch. A butterfly garden was also added recently, and last year a butterfly was spotted at the Sunshine Garden for the first time! In effort to bring more pollinators to the space, a native wildflower garden is planned for this year.

CYC has recently received the honor of being a certified "City of Chicago Community Garden" and will be featured on a tour of community gardens in August 2014. Learn more about the Sunshine Garden through their Facebook page.

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