Giving spirit at Beautiful Savior plot

John Baker is a co-director of the Beautiful Savior Lutheran Community Garden. Maddie Neff, 5, grows a bed of broccoli, cucumbers and tomatoes there. (Dan Pelle)
John Baker is a co-director of the Beautiful Savior Lutheran Community Garden. Maddie Neff, 5, grows a bed of broccoli, cucumbers and tomatoes there. (Dan Pelle)

It’s difficult to come up with a more appropriate use for an old greenhouse site than a community garden. When Camyn’s Greenhouse, which had been in business for more than 50 years at the intersection of 43rd Avenue and Hatch Road on the South Hill, closed its doors, neighboring Our Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church bought the property.

And last year John Baker and Tom Lucke successfully persuaded the congregation to build a community garden on part of the land.

“The 15 beds we have are all taken,” Baker said. “The congregation has to approve any expansions we want to do, because the church owns the property. The congregation has been very supportive.”

This is the second growing season for Beautiful Savior Community Garden, which had more than 100 volunteers who combined to put in at least 500 volunteer hours last year.

“Our gardeners are not all from the congregation – anyone can garden here,” said Baker, adding that the garden is considered an outreach activity for the church. “In my view, the notion of a community garden means that lots of different people contribute.”

Every gardener must agree to contribute to Second Harvest’s Southside Food Pantry, which is open Saturdays at Southside Christian Church in Lincoln Heights.

“We do that in the spirit of sharing,” Baker said. “And this way, our gardeners can meet the people who benefit from the donations.”

Working with the Southside Food Pantry adds new dimensions to community gardening.

Baker said that food pantry staff recommended the garden grow and donate vegetables that aren’t too exotic, because clients often shy away from unfamiliar veggies like purple potatoes.

“We grow corn and zucchini and potatoes and of course tomatoes,” said Baker, adding that the garden is looking for donations of corn seed. “We didn’t know how expensive corn seed is.”

During harvest season, which hasn’t quite started yet, volunteers get together Friday mornings to harvest, bag and pack vegetables for the Southside Food Pantry.

More than a dozen businesses and organizations, as well as countless volunteers, helped get the garden established. Baker said there’s always room for more volunteers, and the garden is also looking for materials for a potential expansion.

“We reused the wood from the old greenhouse to build the first round of garden beds,” said Baker. “We always need stuff like hoses and more wood for bed construction.”

What’s Baker’s favorite part of Beautiful Savior Community Garden?

“I like to just hang out here and enjoy the conversations people have,” Baker said. “It’s been a wonderful undertaking for all of us.”

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