When Sammie and Angela Taylor moved into their home in the 4400 block of West Fulton Street, the vacant lot next to them was the “No. 1” spot for criminal activity in their section of Garfield Park.
At one time the lot had been a community garden, but for three years it went vacant and untended, and as the weeds grew over the individual plots, drug dealers took over the space out front.
When the Taylors moved in six years ago, they set out to fixing up the garden and changing the community around them.
“It changes the environment of our community. Being that we are from the West Side, we are, as all communities in Chicago are, plagued with crime and violence,” said Angela Taylor. “In front of the garden space was the drug store for the community. That no longer exists; now it’s a food source for the community.”
The couple’s Fulton Street Vegetable Garden provides food for shelters in Garfield Park and for the people who live in the area.
The Taylors, with their grandson Daniel Taylor, came to the Sept. 15 “Sharing Approaches that Work” conference at Truman College, 1145 W. Wilson Ave., to share their success story and learn from other community groups.
The conference, organized by Accelerate 77, an initiative of the Institute of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with five Chicago universities and 220 college interns, recruited groups from each of Chicago’s 77 communities with projects that address sustainability or environmental issues.
Cultural Affairs CEO Terry Bergdall said the purpose of the conference was to connect groups with similar aims and let people know they are not alone. Austin’s Ald. Deborah Graham (29th) echoed that sentiment.
“There are so many green initiatives that the community at large does not know about,” Graham said. “We’re going to get this information today and … take this information to the communities.”
Graham is a member of Accelerate 77’s advisory board and addressed a crowd of about 300.
“The purpose of this conference today is to connect with each other,” Graham said.
Several Austin groups are involved with Accelerate 77, including the Growing Green and Root Riot, Graham said. Graham has a garden plot with Root Riot, near the Austin Town Hall and Douglass High School, where she planted tomatoes last year.
“I learned a lot about [gardening], and next year I’m really excited because now we have a farmers market at Austin Town Hall, so we’re going to encourage people who grow their own vegetables to sell them at the farmers market,” she said.
The Taylors already work with other communities across Chicago to help start their own gardens. Sammie Taylor estimates they helped build “about 50” community gardens in the past year.
“Not just in East Garfield Park, but in Humboldt Park, South Lawndale and the Austin community,” he said.
That outreach has helped the Taylors build a network of cooperative groups throughout the South and West Sides, and the the couple will house seedlings for a number of groups in their new greenhouse this winter.
“We want to meet some people, gain some volunteers and just share the goodness of this type of practice, starting right here,” Angela Taylor said affectionately grabbing her grandson’s shoulder.
Daniel, 12, has been working in the garden since his grandparents started it. He lives down the street from the lot and said when he has a house he will plant his own garden.
“I started planting seeds and pulling weeds, and I’ve been doing it ever since I was 5, and I’m going to keep doing it,” he said.
NBC 5 community affairs reporter Lisa Parker of Oak Park hosted the event, which the Institute of Cultural Affair’s Spokesman Tom Wray estimated drew in 700 people throughout the day.