Hyde Parker helps garden neophytes

Assistant to the Editor

Spring means warmer weather, longer days and for some neighborhood residents, a return to gardening.

Hyde Parker Debra Hammond is one of them. The consultant for non-profits with an MBA from the University of Chicago is also the founder of The Kitchen Gardener, an internet-based small business that lets South Siders have her tend to their home gardens.

Hammond grows herbs, fruit and vegetables for others, she said, so that they “just get familiar with food and really enjoy the pleasure of not just eating good food but the pleasure of growing it and having fun with it.”

This growing season will be Hammond’s third while operating her business, and though she currently serves only six customers she says she does most of the work on their gardens, planting and tending to them, preparing seedlings, weeding, fertilizing, placing mulch and doing some of the watering.

According to the Los Angeles native, her thumb turned green 14 years ago at a garden then located at the Dorchester Avenue and 61st Street.

“I grew up in the city, I didn’t know anything about gardening, so it was an educational experience,” she said, adding that “it really changed my life, it changed my diet.”

“There’s a great diversity of people who garden” at community gardens, Hammond said, “and it’s just a great place to learn about new things and share what you’re learning.”
The garden at 61st eventually closed in 2009, but Hammond found a new gardening space in a backyard at 48th Street and Woodlawn Avenue, where she became part of what she calls a “shared cropping arrangement.”

Hammond’s leap from amateur to professional gardening followed.

“That kind of inspired me to branch out and think ‘well if I can do that for this family I could do this for other families and they could enjoy the pleasure of growing their own vegetables,’” Hammond said.

Hammond says The Kitchen Gardener serves as a “virtual community garden,” and her business’ website as a “way to share recipies, and ideas and know-how.” One of her customers lives in Chatham, but all the others are located in Hyde Park, she said.
One Hyde Park customer is Bill Grobman, who said he and his wife and will be having Hammond garden for them for a second year.

Hammond “has given us insight into different vegetable plants,” Grobman said. “She’s been really thoughtful about the particulars of light and where particular varietals will do better.”

Grobman and his wife grow tomatoes, melons and squash, among other produce, and he says food from gardens “ultimately tastes different than the stuff you buy in the store.”
Hammond agrees.

“When you’re growing and picking things fresh right out of your backyard, nothing you get at the store can rival that. But I also think it’s about the pleasure of cooking together and sitting down and eating together and all the things that happen around food.”

Those interested in finding out more about The Kitchen Garden, or reading its blog, can visit at thekitchengardener.com.