Greetings Mr. Leki,
and LSC Members,
I understand that the Waters School Ecology Program will soon be defunded by 30%.
I am writing to urge you to reconsider this decision and continue to fully fund the Waters School Ecology Program.
Waters Elementary School has partnered with Mr. Leki and hosted this garden for decades. So what’s the big deal about a school garden?
The big deal is it’s not just a school garden. I’ll explain If you’ll give me a moment to hear me out. This is not a simple garden, a series of plots where plants grow. It is a thriving micro-ecosystem, restored under the stewardship of Mr. Leki and decades of Waters School students, their parents and local volunteers, hosted and funded by Waters Elementary School under the Ecology Program.
And Waters Garden not only serves its students and the neighborhood residents, but it is a model of an urban ecosystem, a habitat and green place of respite for both humans and wildlife, local and migratory.
I live a little over a mile away and frequently host out-of-town visitors, mostly naturalists and conservationists from the West Coast and as far away as Queensland, Australia.
While they speak of their lives on lands within protected seashores and World Heritage sites, I show them our working city, where we protect our green spaces and live and work among them.
My visitors walk and bike with me within my neighborhood, to the bird sanctuary at the lakefront, the riverbank path at Bill McBride and the Waters School
Garden, where future conservationists are trained in their daily studies.
And then they are awed, that this remarkable program is offered to all Waters Elementary School students as part of a Chicago public school education, paid by tax dollars.
And walking the garden, they see the depth of this carefully constructed ecosystem, with it’s native plants sowing prairie and woodland, feeding local pollinators as well as birds migrating along the Mississippi Flyway, one of the eight global migratory paths, acting as a feed stop for those birds. Native plants which use their deep roots to pull water into the soil, some 16 feet below the surface, acting as local flood abatement during our increasingly frequent torrential downpours. They see the constructed biowale, the limestone filtering which returns rainfall to the ground as well as the underground aquifer, as part of the Great Lakes Watershed.
They read the signage and are told that the garden also tends to it’s human neighbors, as it sends fresh vegetables and fruits in season to the local food pantry each year.
These are just a few of the efforts coordinated and orchestrated under Mr. Leki’s stewardship while teaching Waters School students about our local environment and their role within it.
I was one of the founders of Montrose Green Community Garden, a two-year pop up vegetable arden serving 260 families under the Montrose Brown line elevated train stop in 2012-13. We were able to accomplish much in a mere two years. But the intricacies of the Waters School Garden ecosystem took years to build and is a replicable model for other cities and urban settings. The process of degradation of a system starts small with simple decisions including spending cuts; other gardens can be built, you say, or we can just reduce the size of our garden. But this is an ecosystem, and without its carefully interwoven scale it ceases to exist. I urge you at Waters School to continue hosting this garden,
It is a model for greenways and green space within an urban setting.
Once it’s gone, it’s gone.