Improvements taking root in Fairmont
By Cindy Wojdyla Cain firstname.lastname@example.org July 28, 2013 9:46PM
Updated: August 30, 2013 6:25AM
LOCKPORT TOWNSHIP — Katie Ulmer walked around a plot of land on Friday with a knife in her hand.
She knew exactly what she was going to cut: a firm cabbage that was growing in the Fairmont neighborhood’s first community garden.
“It’s not ripe, but it’s ready,” she said of the cabbage.
Ulmer, a spokeswoman for the Lockport Park District’s Silver and Gold Club for residents 50 and over, could have been speaking about the Fairmont neighborhood as well.
The unincorporated neighborhood sandwiched between Joliet to the south and Lockport to the north is ready for an improved quality of life, said Steve Lazzara, a senior planner with the Will County Land Use Department. Since 2010, Lazzara has overseen a combined effort by a wide variety of governmental entities that are chipping away at some of Fairmont’s issues. The program is starting to bear fruit.
With a technical assistance grant from the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning and help from the Lockport Township and its park district and highway department, things are starting to change.
First up in 2011 were three new bus shelters for Green Garden Place, the main north-south route in the neighborhood. Next up was the community garden, which was planted in the spring on a 1,000-square-foot plot of land adjacent to the Fairmont Community Center. The township paid for the fence, and the park district tilled 10 plots, provided soil and fertilizers and installed a water spigot on the side of the community center. The University of Illinois Extension donated the seeds, and members of the Silver and Gold Club and other community residents have done the work.
Fruits of their labor
“This actually ends up being a perfect location (for the garden),” said Sue Micklevitz, executive director of the park district. “It’s close to the food pantry and any excess (produce) they can’t take home will go to the food pantry.”
Katie Ulmer, the woman with the knife, said she already has a garden at home, but she wanted to work alongside club members at the community plot as well since she grew up on a farm and knows her way around a row of vegetables.
“It’s beautiful,” she said of the islands of vegetables sprouting around her feet.
The plots are producing corn, okra, lettuce, collard greens, black-eyed peas, tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers. Ulmer weeded the garden on Friday with Dora Brown of Joliet and Janice Posey and Rachel Weddington, both of Fairmont.
“You know you need to stake your tomatoes,” Ulmer told Posey.
Posey said she doesn’t need her tomatoes to get red.
“I want them green,” she said. “I like to fry green tomatoes with cornmeal, salt and pepper. Some people use flour, but I use cornmeal.”
Posey was thrilled with how lush the garden is its first year.
“It’s wonderful to see it grow,” she said. “My gosh it’s nice.”
Brown had her eyes peeled for the veggies she needed to make chacha, a summer relish.
“I use peas, green tomatoes, carrots, vinegar, sugar and spices,” she said.
Now that the garden is flourishing, Lazzara and his team are about to have a pre-construction meeting for a new sidewalk in Fairmont that will stretch 1,000 feet from Fairmont School south into the neighborhood. Students walking to and from the school have to walk in the middle of Green Garden Place to get home.
“They have nowhere to walk,” said John Cielenski, the township highway commissioner. “They’re forced to walk in the street.”
The new sidewalk will be paid for by a state Safe Routes to School grant. The project cost is estimated at $36,000.
Lazzara said after the sidewalk is in sometime this fall, a plan will be created to tackle some of the drainage issues in Fairmont. Culverts can be replaced and new ditches can be dug to help alleviate flooding problems, Lazzara said.
Also in the works is a better water source from two deep wells that used to serve the now shuttered Joliet Correctional Center. Township Supervisor Ron Alberico said he had a meeting set up with state officials to explore rerouting the correctional center’s well water to Fairmont’s 850 homes, but a fire at the prison on Thursday scuttled the meeting.
It would cost about $500,000 to extend water lines to Fairmont, so funding from the state or other sources would be needed to make it a reality, Alberico said.
Lazzara said his group also will work on fostering new housing in Fairmont to fill in empty lots that attract weeds and garbage. Homes were being built in Fairmont before the recession, but it needs to continue now, he said. It’s all a part of making Fairmont a sustainable community, he said.
“We want to build momentum in the community,” Lazzara said. “We want to build an identity. We want to foster that momentum and keep pushing forward.”