Block Captain Duties – It’s Good to Have Friends! by LaManda Joy

For those of you who have followed The Peterson Garden Project since our inception in 2010, you know this movement is inspired by the Victory Gardens of WW2. What you might not know is that in 1942, during the first summer of WW2, 500 community gardens were built in three months. This incredible achievement happened because of the nearly 5,000 block captains who stepped up to help fight the “war on the home front” with the Office of Civilian Defense.

Following the WW2 model, I was the block captain for The Peterson Garden Project in 2010– visit here for a recap of that year  – although many, many people helped that first year and the following year because my work schedule kept me out of town a lot.

Well, we’re not in a world war, but we are recreating a small sliver of what those domestic heroes did 70 years ago with our 2012 efforts. And, true to the model, we do have block captains in each of our four Pop-up Victory Gardens and the Edible Treasures Garden at The Field Museum.

Many of you reading this have gone through orientation (probably given by one of the block captains), and they’ve emphasized that we’re a volunteer run organization.  Block captains are the heart of the in-garden volunteer team. (There’s another, also awesome, group of people who help with the bigger objectives and vision of The Peterson Garden Project. You can read about them here.)

Without further blah blah, let me introduce you to your block captains. You probably have met them already but, if not, say hi, give them a hug, and lend a hand. We all make The Peterson Garden Project awesome!


Sally, block captain at Global GardenSally and I are the block captains at Global (here’s a picture of Sally with her “best trash” find on our first clean-up day). Sally is also the person who managed registration for us this year, and for that she deserves a big round of applause! With nearly 650 plots and 2,000+ gardeners she sent a lot of emails and answered a lot of questions assigning those plots! This is also her first year food gardening, although she grew up on a farm, so I’m sure it will all come back to her very quickly.


In addition, Liz has stepped up to help run the garden (and you can see she LOVES helping!) Liz is a photographer who is going to capture the evolution of the garden throughout the season in addition to helping in other ways. We’ve even had non-gardeners step up, like Julie who we’ll talk about more in a week or so.

Les (not pictured) is one of our leadership team members. He’s gardening at Global when not running  the Looseleaf Lounge. He’ll be a familiar face at Global as well.  (Read about what Les is planting this year.)

Montrose Green

As members of the Green Team of the Northcenter Neighborhood Association (NNA), Lisa and Elizabeth reached out to us to help put in the first community garden in their neighborhood. We had just about given up hope for finding a property in 2012 when David from Harrington Brown offered his vacant lot by the brown line CTA stop for two growing seasons.


Hoping to build community with local restaurants, Montrose Green is the first of our gardens to actively partner with chefs to grow food for their establishments.

Lisa is the garden coordinator, and Elizabeth likes to build things. They’ve both worked tirelessly to get this garden community formed. And no matter how many times I say it, they enjoy saying “dirt pile” instead of “soil.” I love them anyway.


Susan reached out to me after an article appeared in the Chicago Tribune last November. We met for coffee at the drive-thru Starbucks on Lincoln and Jersey. We both agreed that the empty lot at the former Stars Motel site would make an amazing community garden. The rest is history. Here’s Susan working during the first clean-up day at Stars – sorry I don’t have a better image! And, boy, was that lot nasty!


Ellen (the one with the clipboard) stepped in to partner with Susan and lend her veteran skills at Stars. Ellen was one of our original gardeners at Peterson/Campbell, who managed registration and countless other tasks. I breathed a big sigh of relief when I knew she and Susan were the team at Stars!


Rich – pictured here, showing me who’s boss on the first day of the Vedgewater build – and his wife Dori gardened with us at Peterson/Campbell and volunteered in many ways last year. When he learned what Troy and I had up our sleeves for this empty property, he quickly threw his hat into the ring as block captain.

Since the garden has started, Steph, Craig, Rosy and others have also taken leadership roles at Vedgewater. Or, as they like to call it, “the Vedge.”

Edible Treasures

Last but not least, our own leadership team veteran Maribeth has been instrumental in the building and leadership of the amazing community garden at The Field Museum. Not to give her short attention, but you can read more about the Edible Treasure Garden in a recent post on this blog.

So, we have gone from one to five gardens in two years. Not a bad track record. People have been asking about next year and potential block captains have been pointing out empty properties in their neighborhoods that could be perfect for a Pop-up Victory garden.

Who knows? In 1943, an additional 1,000 community gardens were built. If history repeats itself, the roster of Peterson Garden Project block captains may grow for next year too.

In the meantime, the cool thing about block captains is they become friends. And that, for me, is the best thing about being a block captain.