Gardens for the City in a Garden (4-20-1932)

As the Great Depression moved into its third year, unemployed people were finding ways to make ends meet.  Some of them were becoming farmers.

Today Chicagoans learned the County Board was launching a farming project on its property.  Sections of the forest preserves were going to be plowed.  Local relief agencies would then be assigned specific plots.  The agencies would distribute seed to any needy person willing to work the land.

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The Board’s superintendent felt this was an effective use of unused acreage.  If the initial program were successful, other parts of the forest preserves might be opened up for use.  Meanwhile, at least one private company was starting its own farming program.

International Harvester had laid off 4,500 people.  Now Harvester announced it had leased 1,100 acres of vacant land on the far Southwest Side.  A quarter-section was to be available to each unemployed head-of-family who had worked at the company at least five years.

Harvester was going to provide bus service to the site, free tools, and free soil testing.  The workers would be sold seed at nominal cost—but if anyone couldn’t afford to pay, the company would pick up the tab.  Harvester had hired an agriculture expert to supervise the project.

Out in the neighborhoods, community leaders were becoming active in the back-to-the-soil movement.  Gardens could be planted in backyards or vacant lots.  Many civic groups were getting on board—the Red Cross, United Charities, the Urban League, and the Cook County Federation of Women’s Clubs were all involved.

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Sometimes the unemployed needed a little push.  In the area around Hermosa Park, 440 families had been receiving food and clothing from agencies.  Now those people would be able to help themselves, by growing their own food in their own gardens.

The best crop to grow in the region’s soil was potatoes.  Turnips, carrots, and parsnips were other possibilities.  These crops were easily cultivated.  They could be grown in large quantities, then stored for winter.

Chicagoans continued their gardens through the hard times.  Urban agriculture declined after World War II.  But recently, Detroit leaders floated the idea of turning large swaths of their vacant land into farms.  Perhaps a similar program will be reborn in our city.

—30—

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2 Responses to “Gardens for the City in a Garden (4-20-1932)”


  1. 1 Ralph August 4, 2016 at 11:42 pm

    JR, were these also referred to as victory gardens? I remember reading about one on the north side of Chicago, on Foster Ave. just south of the WTTW Studios. I think Northeastern is there now. The gardens was still there in the mid 1960’s when I use to go by there on the way to school.


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