While the ripping up of several plants and destruction of a kiosk at a community garden may sound like small potatoes to some, to the volunteers who operate the Altgeld Sawyer Corner Farm in Chicago's Logan Square neighborhood on a "shoestring" budget, a recent vandalism incident bordered on devastation.
According to Brie Callahan, communications lead for the community garden, witnesses saw three males enter the garden space, located at the corner of W. Altgeld and N. Sawyer streets, just after 2 a.m. on Sept. 29. They proceeded to pull a kiosk out of the ground and throw it onto a nearby sidewalk, toss tables and chairs onto the garden's plant beds and strew garbage around the garden, in addition to uprooting a number of plants, according to the witnesses.
Though they reported the incident to police, the perpetrators fled the scene before officers arrived.
"It would be a sad story if that was the end of it," Callahan told HuffPost Chicago.
The garden was created in 2009 with a three-part mission: to add open green space to a relatively park-poor community; to stock the food pantry of the neighborhood non-profit group Christopher House with fresh, organically-raised food and to cultivate community.
In the three years since its inception, the garden has grown into one that provides between 10 and 15 pounds of arugula, tomatoes, carrots and other produce to the pantry weekly -- all on an annual operating budget of less than $2,000.
Volunteers are instrumental to the garden's success. The morning after the vandalism on Sept. 29, Callahan said, volunteers from throughout the neighborhood arrived at the garden after learning of the incident via the farm's social media accounts. The participants, many of whom regular volunteers had never met, undid much of the damage over the course of several hours.
The day after that, on Sept. 30, Wicker Park resident Kelly Van Eaton, came to the garden to repair the kiosk, which he had built in 2010 alongside a group of area youth volunteering through the After School Matters program. The green kiosk, Van Eaton said, lends visibility to a group that has an excellent reputation in the Northwest Side neighborhood.
"They make themselves known as good neighbors and occupants," Van Eaton said, "and it's because of the way they act and what they provide."
After the group's garden was repaired, its volunteers received another piece of good news, exactly one week after the vandalism. The Altgeld Sawyer Corner Farm was selected as the People's Choice winner in Placemaking Chicago's "Space In Between" contest. With that title comes a $1,500 cash prize, which equates to about 75 percent of the funding the group will need over the next growing season. The funding will also be helpful as the group aims to launch additional gardens in the Logan Square area in the months ahead.
The win proved to be much more than a silver lining for Callahan and the others who have poured many hours into keeping up the garden.
"The initial news felt a little defeating, but this is exactly why we do this kind of work and why we have this farm," Callahan said. "Three guys don't really have a chance to stand up against a community coming together."
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