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Archive for the ‘Community Garden’ Category

There’s been a couple of new developments in the urban farming aspects in the Chicago area, and I’d thought they needed some attention called to them.

The first is the nation’s first certified organic rooftop farm, right here on Devon Avenue! Uncommon Ground has built it, and also offers a weekly farmer’s market during the summer and is trying to set up community orchards in Logan Square.

The second stride forward is a proposed aquaponics vertical farm in the south loop. Here’s a related video.

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Sorry I took a break from posting for a while; I’ve been a bit out of sorts lately.

The first bit of news I have to share relates to–you guessed it–the community garden. No, i haven’t finally secured permission to grow there or anything momentous, but I did speak with the family that lives next door to the property. I have apparently been barking up the right tree, but there’s a lower branch I overlooked. The owners are indeed the C—– family, but there are two brothers who control the property, and the one who is directly involved in decisions regarding the land lives in Skokie (much closer than Wisconsin).

The guy who bought the north half of the property to build his home said that he had tried to also buy the southern (still vacant) half to develop another house on. His offer was turned down by Mr. C—–, who is reportedly very difficult to contact (or at least to get answers from). Mr. C——- does not appear to have any imminent plans for the property, but thought (I guess) that the offer wasn’t high enough. At any rate, the guy that lives next door promised to ask his lawyer this week to get contact information for Mr. C——- so that I could contact him directly. Additionally, the family on the north half seemed generally agreeable to the idea of a community vegetable garden next door, saying that the land should be used for something.

The second news item relates to my cold frame–which is now useless! Yes, friends, the lower pane of the window lid (a piece of glass about 10″ by 48″ was shattered in about three nights ago now. There were no rocks or tree branches or other implements of mayhem lying nearby, so I can only conclude that the damage was caused by a Malamute paw (or butt). When it’s cold and a 100-lb dog stands on a thin sheet of glass, bad things can happen. Milady does not appear to be hurt (other than by my very suggestion that she is in any way culpable), but 1 group of tender little seedlings inside were not so lucky. Besides having to pick splintered glass out of my lettuce (grr!) the impact had bruised or cut several of the plants. We’ll see if they survive. I went to Home Depot to find a replacement panel of acrylic or Lexan (don’t want to use glass again, right?) and found that the box store wanted $42 for a piece of that size…much more than I care to spend on a free cold frame. I am pondering what to do…

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Our techno society has become so accustomed to Google as a search tool that the name itself has been pressed into service as a verb. Need to know about weeping willows, or tax code, or indigenous marsupials? Google it! Sometimes I forget what life was like before the Internet and algorithmic search engines. So, there’s a strange sense of enjoyment–almost adventure–in researching something the old-fashioned way.

Thursday, after an interpreting job downtown, I strolled over to the County Building and paid a visit to the Cook Count Recorder of Deeds to try to figure out who owns the parcel of vacant land I’m eyeing for our garden. Naturally, I was sent to the basement, down an austere and sterile corridor, to plight my case in the Tract Room. After giving the PIN (Property Identification Number) of the land to the clerk, she checked her computer and confirmed that there was no information on file, so the last transaction was at least 25 years ago, prior to 1985. She pulled out a huge paper-and-ink reference tome, which gave her the numbered location of a plat book.

Cross-referencing that, she was momentarily confused until I explained that it seemed that the land was divided into two properties a few years ago. That matter cleared up, she handed me nothing more than a scrap of paper with a “Document Number” on it. I was then directed down another subterranean corridor to the Microfiche Vault.

The gatekeeper of this tiny chamber (little more than a desk, a chair, and a counter for filling out forms), took the document number and disappeared through a door behind him, returning a few moments later with a single 9″ x 9″ sheet of microfiche. He then bade me go across the hall into the Microfiche Reading Library. Using a reading terminal (the operation of which took me back to my college days!), I saw that the film contained deed and transfers from a variety of addresses all across the county. Finally locating the property in question, I find that the only deed transaction, a sale of the property, happened in March of 1963! Since I know the demolished farmhouse was on the developed side of the property, that means the land has sat fallow for 47 years!

Sadly, the deed transfer contained very little information: the names of Julius and Mary C——, S——- Realty, and a legal description of the land. Returning the microfiche to the Vault and heading back to the Tract Room, I asked the clerk if she knew any way to contact them. “Not if they’re not in my computer,” she replied.

NOW I turned to Google. I’m pretty good at searching, and soon I turned up the date of death for Julius (2005) and Mary (2004). I also found some property owned by them in Palatine and Schaumburg, tranferred to a Victor C——, who also went by the anglicized name of Victor S——–…the same name as the realty company on the original deed! Victor is apparently 53 years old, and married a woman named Barbara Sc—–, who seem to have sold their Illinois properties and seem to be living in E——-, Wisconsin, on a fairly nice piece of lakefront property. I have called the phone number, heard Barb S—–‘s voice (and heard that they are general contractors, which explains the several properties in Wisconsin sold to banks: developed houses, no doubt). However, I haven’t left a message because I don’t think I could explain the situation very well through a message. Nor have I attempted to Facebook friend Barbara, though I could try.

(Editor’s note: Are you scared by Google yet? You should be. I’m leaving out things like their names and exact location…and how much their property is worth and Julius’s and Mary’s Social Security Numbers….)

I did also knock on the door of the people who bought the property just adjacent–sometimes the most direct method is the best! They weren’t home, however, and I will try again tomorrow. I’ll also gives the S—-‘s another call tomorrow, too. I will get to the bottom of this and get a yes/no on the garden idea.

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So, I started looking into the ownership of the plot of land that I mentioned in the last entry. The City of Chicago does not own it. The Cook County Recorder of Deeds has no information regarding any transaction involving the plot in the electronic files. When I asked what that meant, I was told that it meant there has been no sale or development of the land since at least 1985.

It also means that to find out who does own the land, I have to go downtown to the Recorder’s Office and look through the (gasp!) paper-and-ink tract books to research the ownership further.

Undisturbed for at least 25 years is a good sign that they won’t be developing this summer, eh?

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The post above is a mug shot of a parcel of land on my block. It was part of a double lot that held a single, dilapidated house that was torn down in 2004. Half of the land was developed into a large brick house, but clearly the parcel was subdivided into two pieces, because the current owner of the split half of the lot hasn’t ever developed or landscaped the remaining lot on the corner.

So I’m thinking about starting the process to repurpose the land as a community garden, at least until some developer decides the economy has recovered enough that people might actually want to buy something built there.Who’s with me?

The land in question is here, on the corner of Birchwood and California. I know several of the readers of this blog are in striking distance to this area, and I’m hoping a few of us might be interested in joining together to use this vacant land more efficiently. It would be especially good if you live in a condo or apartment and don’t have easy access to a suitable backyard for planting. GreenNet is a good website for discussing the process of a community garden, to give you an idea what might be involved.

Please email me at fightplot@gmail.com or comment on this posting is you are interested.

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