Fall harvest underway at Ginkgo Organic Gardens

On an average Saturday morning, it’s quiet on the 4000 block of Kenmore Ave., a typical residential block lined with Brownstones and apartment buildings. At the center of the block, 4050 N. Kenmore houses a red stone apartment building. A nearly identical version in yellow sits at 4060. Nestled in between, at 4055 N. Kenmore, a stone path leads to a wrought iron gate behind which lies something completely different.

4055 N. Kenmore used to be a vacant lot, but in 1994, it became Ginkgo Organic Gardens. For the past eighteen years this all-volunteer garden has provided fresh produce to Vital Bridges (formerly Groceryland), a Heartland Alliance outreach program providing services for Chicagoans who have been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS.

“We like to say we’re a half-ton garden,” said lead volunteer Alan Simmons of the garden’s annual harvest.

“What we give isn’t enough to feed everyone, but it’s a way for us to support people who need access to high quality food,” Simmons said.

Each Saturday morning from April to November, groups of volunteers come to work in the garden, and during harvest time each week, a load of produce is taken by bike directly to Vital Bridges.

Ginkgo is open to volunteers of all knowledge and experience levels.

“It allows people to learn a lot of different things,” Simmons said, “Farming techniques, organic gardening, to some degree ecology and even a little bit about orchards,”

Volunteer Ruta Lesniauska said she enjoys seeing familiar fruits and vegetables from a different perspective,

“My favorite thing to do is harvesting,” said Lesniauska, “because I’m familiar with all kinds of fruits and vegetables, but I didn’t know what they looked like on the vine,”

For some volunteers, Ginkgo is not only an opportunity to learn about gardening, it is a chance to spend time outside with friends,

“I started volunteering at Ginkgo when I moved to a smaller apartment. It didn’t have any outside space and I missed it,” said Ivy Czekanski, a volunteer. “My favorite thing about (volunteering), though, is building community because you have friends here that you see every week,”

According to Simmons, most Saturdays, between fifteen and thirty volunteers will come to work at Ginkgo.

“We have a small cadre that come back every week, it really just depends,” Simmons said. “It really acts like a sieve, people may come and try it a few times and then we never see them again, but some people are really just caught by it,”

The garden is open for volunteers Saturday mornings from 9:30 to 1:00 as well as Wednesday evenings from 6:30 to 8:00 through November. Visit http://www.ginkgogardens.org/for more information.