Our Garden Brings Together South Side Community
With a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 associated with staying indoors, more folks are looking for ways to spend more time outside. And for a South Side community garden, this means more programming to bring the community together, outdoors.
Our Garden (The O.G. for short) has been run by Marjorie Chapman, a retired yoga instructor who was raised on the South Side, who first got the idea a decade ago. She acquired the rehabbed lot at 897 Berkeley Rd. from a local nonprofit, and only had to pay a gift tax of $1 in return, in a moment she calls “divine-inspired.”
She began building a few garden beds and a platform for a stage, though she didn’t know why at first. A partnership with a home improvement store location later allowed her to get materials at a discounted rate.
The garden evolved from there to a project that Chapman began including local kids in last year. (The kids picked Our Garden’s name, too.) They helped her plant everything from seed, which turned out to be a much more difficult task to let children handle.
“I would never do that again,” she laughs. “With a bunch of kids and seeds and the wind blowing and the seeds blowing out of our hands, but it was fun. And they learned a lot. I learned a lot.”
Beginning in 2019, Chapman began hosting different programs, including story time with the kids and a Saturday morning adult yoga class, with people in and outside of the community.
Because Chapman is retired, she says she treats the garden like a job. Most of the time, she is at the garden from sun up to sundown, if not later, though she doesn’t have to be at the garden as much now that she has additional help to maintain it.
Chapman wanted to do more, but couldn’t take it on by herself, so eventually Lashana “Shhuga” Stevens stepped in to help.
With Shhuga’s help, the garden now has children’s yoga and “coolaid and conversations,” live music performances, paint parties as well as movie nights. Chapman says she would eventually like to have a game day and an educational day with local teachers at the garden.
But more than just a programming space, the garden is also a place to gather. It’s available for baby showers, weddings, or for people to just come and hang out.
“I get a lot of people that come through, kids and adults that it’s become like a counseling center if you will, or place to come and just kind of leave your troubles here,” she says. “People come and they say that they feel like peace in the garden. They feel like it’s an oasis in the neighborhood.”
Chapman loves sharing her space, and the curiosity people have when they first walk in. She also loves teaching, especially about her experience with the garden, which continues to teach her new things as well. (Recently, she stumbled across straw bale gardening, an alternative to soil. She’s collaborating with the local expert that taught her about the technique for a series of YouTube videos soon.)
The produce from the garden is regularly available to the community, free of charge.
“The goal is that people that help volunteer and help maintain the garden, get first pick at the produce. But it’s open for everyone,” Chapman says. “And I love that.”
Our Garden will host “The Royal Garden Fashion Show” Saturday, Aug. 30 at 11 a.m., which will accept donations with proceeds going back to the garden. Check out Our Garden on Facebook for more information.
All photos by Taijuan Moorman