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Thursday, May 5, 2005 01:06 am

Seeds in the ground


Come on, you grumps of Springfield — it’s time to quit complaining and get seeds in the ground. There’s a movement afoot to make this a better place, one yard at a time. The idea is that every seed plants hope, every plant adds life and beauty, and every planter becomes part of the civic solution. Ask not how your city can grow for you but what you can grow for your city.

The movement is called the Yard to Yard Challenge, the latest project of Springfield Green, a community volunteer initiative.

“It’s as simple as looking outside your front door and seeing what you’d like to change,” says Sharon Whalen, publisher of Illinois Times, one of the Y2Y sponsors, along with Illinois National Bank and Ace Hardware. Elsewhere in this issue, and at www.illinoistimes.com, are details on how to enter the contest (before June 1) and compete for prizes of as much as $400 in various categories. This is a friendly competition, but that’s not the main point.

“It’s not about the competition,” Whalen says. “It’s about trying to get grassroots support for beautification. We’re all responsible for how our city looks.” Once you enter, you’ll get a Yard to Yard yard sign to show your support for the campaign.

Most entrants are sprucing up their own properties; one is offering to plant for a shut-in who can’t. Several downtown businesses have committed to improving the landscaping outside their stores. Groups are invited to green up a school or a house of worship. I can picture a neighborhood association picking out the ugliest vacant lot on the block to become a community garden. Or how about organizing a group to clean up the yard of an abandoned house? Maybe that will give someone the idea to fix it up rather than tear it down. If we planted flowers up and down our alleys, we’d keep the trash picked up and the weeds mowed down.

I cherish a 1989 letter from my father, now deceased, on why he liked to grow vegetables. “I get lots of pleasure giving away the excess, which is most of it, to my less gifted or lazier friends,” was one of the reasons — classic Fletcher. Another reason was simply “It gives me a sense of accomplishment to put things in the ground, nurture them, and watch them grow.”

My dad was never vocal about his faith, but he closed his letter by naming what motivates many gardeners. “Whether it be vegetables or flowers or whatever, the growing process strengthens one’s belief that there is surely a God up there that lets all this happen.” We grow things because we know it’s not us doing the growing.

The Yard to Yard movement is catching on, and every one of those green yard signs makes someone curious enough to ask how to get one. Growing things have a way of spreading. Soon this town will come alive with energy, and we’ll start talking about how to get things done rather than about why we can’t. It doesn’t have to be hard.

In his poem “On the Building of Springfield,” Vachel Lindsay acknowledged that we need many of the Lincoln-hearted to do their work: “A city is not builded in a day.”

But it’s not all work, Lindsay said. Here’s the kicker: “Some city on the breast of Illinois/No wiser and no better at the start,/By faith shall rise redeemed — by faith shall rise/Bearing the western glory in her heart.”

Let’s get planting.

For questions about Y2Y, send e-mail to yardtoyardchallenge@illinoistimes.com.

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