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Community That Grows Together Stays Together By Lilly Maples

Imagine, if you will, a grandmother with her six beautiful grandchildren planting collard greens and okra in the community garden at the local branch NAACP office; An aunt and uncle with their two gregarious and brilliant grand-nephew digging clay out of the raised beds to replace with composted soil at the GWCC Community Garden in John Gwynn Park.

Picture residents on the 1800 block of Kettelle near Martin building raised beds in November in preparation for the growing season beginning after Mother’s Day; they are planting cabbage, peppers, squash, and strawberries.

Community Growers Network pic 2_v1 Community Garden Network pic 3_v1 Community Garden Network pic 1 Residents' Neighborhood Garden_v1

If you could imagine what a community looks like, would you see grade school boys coming to help plant brussels sprouts and greens in the Thomas Dixon Memorial Garden at Harrison Homes?

Well you should, because I’ve witnessed this all on the south side of Peoria.

Southside resident Robin Tapley said it best, “This (community gardens) benefits us all. It takes a village; if we do a little bit here and there, we are able to create great work in our community.”  And that is the intention of the Community Growers Network.

The Community Growers Network is a group of volunteers constructing and maintaining community gardens around the Southside. This is an incubat ion project of Love’s Revolt, Inc., a local non-profit created with the mission to use Art, Health, and Wellness to heal marginalized communities.

Amarionne Richmon, 13, helped construct raised beds in the fall for the neighborhood gardens on Smith, Kettelle, and Martin. “We are building structure for ourselves. Once you get done, you feel proud about your work. Plus it is good for the community to have something nice that we’ve created on our own.”

The Community Growers network seeks to connect all the growers of fruit, vegetables, and native plants and herbs on the Southside to share resources and ultimately develop infrastructure that brings economic development.

As the city of Peoria moves towards sustainable and green solutions for addressing long standing challenges like the CSO (combined sewer overflow), having initiatives and projects in place can encourage communities like the Southside to have a more active role in the overall development of Peoria.

“We see urban agriculture as an industry that can flourish on the Southside. There is an abundance of land, and people with experience in agriculture and horticulture that live on the Southside–we have assets. The Community Growers Network is a perfect opportunity to grow our community from the inside out, and help promote Peoria as a great place to live for all its residents.” said Jamila Wilson community activist and co-founder of Love’s Revolt, Inc.

The Community Growers Network partners with a number of community organizations like METEC, NAACP, Carver Center, SCUC and PCCEO, and has utilized the resources of University of Illinois extension office’s Master Gardener Program to provide training and gardening resources.

If people are interested in learning more and volunteering with the gardens, you can like their Facebook page, Community Growers Network, or email to gain more information.