Named the Best Urban Farmer of 2013 by The Chicago Reader, LaManda Joy founded the Peterson Garden Project in 2010 to promote urban gardening in Chicago. Gardeners include novice growers, experienced growers, and rural refugee clients. Joy, who is a published author, food activist, and operator of TheYarden.com, found her inspiration for this project in the Victory Garden movement of World War II, when individuals raised food for their own use from personal plots in community gardens. When interviewed by The Chicago Tribune in 2011, Joy explained “I had seen this photo of an old victory garden in our neighborhood while at my local butcher shop, Muller Meats. I drive down Peterson Avenue a lot and I kept seeing that empty lot. Then one day it clicked; that lot was the victory garden in the photo at the butcher shop.”
Her enthusiasm for urban gardening has enabled her to grow the Peterson Garden Project into a reputable, recognized and esteemed stronghold for Chicago’s agriculturally conscientious. The Peterson Garden Project currently host 3,636 registered gardeners at eight gardens in the city. Joy welcomes anyone who has an interest in growing his or her own food or simply wants to contribute a helping hand. Newcomers will find a nurturing community and a plethora of resources for ensuring that their seeds turn into food. The project hosts seed swaps, composting classes, lectures from beekeepers, and a variety of gardening “how-to” classes.
The Peterson Garden Project began with one abandoned lot at the intersection of Peterson and Cambell, a lot that just so happened to have served as a victory garden 72 years ago. Joy wanted to give Chicagoans a voice and provide a means for tackling their concerns with the food system; “People feel out of control, like they don’t have any way to deal with food problems or health safety issues or the cost of food or the way it is transported. [Urban gardening is] a way to take control.”
Joy encourages a sense of community in her gardens and considers that to be a cornerstone of the project’s success. Growers who go out of town sometimes post friendly requests for nearby growers to throw a little water on their plot if the soil is dry. And the request is generally fulfilled. “Community is the key to gardening, sustainability and [a] healthy life. That’s really what a green economy is all about – supporting one another, doing your part […]” Indeed, a quick walk around one of the Peterson Garden Project’s lots promotes that notion perfectly.