Sunflowers in the Dawes Garden of Eatin’ – planted by this year’s incoming kindergarten class – were snapped in half by the vandals. Lynn Hyndman, garden coordinator, said the flowers were reaching about 6 feet tall, but now she has to inform the kids of the destruction. Photo by Anna Sanders

In the past few weeks, the garden at Dawes Elementary School has encountered two instances of vandalism, setting a dark cloud over the once-vibrant Garden of Eatin’. Vegetables planted to enrich the Dawes community were uprooted with no intent to eat them. Flowers were trampled and snapped in two, and bird feeders were knocked over and broken.

Although the loss might seem small to come, Lynn Hyndman, Dawes garden coordinator for Students Actively Gardening in Evanston/Skokie (SAGE), said she is devastated a project has been damaged by the community it was meant to help.

On July 30, after she arrived home from a vacation, Ms. Hyndman learned from a volunteer that the garden looked as though there was damage from the weather.

“However, it was very obvious to me when I looked at it that it was vandalism by the nature of the destruction,” Ms. Hyndman said. She said the garden’s picnic table had been moved closer to a fence – possibly for an easier way out of the garden.  “Our irrigation system was ripped out of several raised beds,” Ms. Hyndman said. “[The vandals] also took support structures out from plants,” she added.

The Dawes Garden of Eatin’ project began in the spring of 2004, said Ms. Hyndman. With the help of Slow Food Chicago and Keep Evanston Beautiful, Inc., the garden project began as a means of teaching children about organic gardening. Since then, it has taught students how personal well-being is connected to the soil in which their food is grown. The garden has been nurtured and grown by the Dawes community, including staff, faculty, families and students and the larger neighboring community, she added.

“The Dawes community is so grateful for all that Lynn does for the kids and the garden,” said Nancy Burhop of Keep Evanston Beautiful and a friend of Ms. Hyndman.

“She was very upset when I spoke to her, especially since Slow Food asked to have an event there [on Aug. 15], which is going ahead. Hopefully all the rain we’ve had helped the plants fill in the gaps,” said Ms. Burhop. She added the crime “was sheer nastiness.”

“I’m unable to put a value on it,” added Ms. Hyndman.

After the first attack – which had to have occurred after July 27, when volunteers were working in the garden – another incident of vandalism occurred. “Vandals came back a few days later and pulled up several plants,” Ms. Hyndman said.  The first incident was reported to the police, who informed Ms. Hyndman that the police do a sweep of the park after midnight.

“In addition to plants’ being pulled, the offenders also knocked over a bird feeder and moved tables,” said Commander James Pickett from the Evanston Police Department of the incident.

 “Unfortunately we do not have any leads in the case,” Comdr. Pickett added.

Ms. Hyndman and Ms. Burhop seem disappointed with the efforts of the police to stop the incident.

“I know that the police have a lot of serious crime to deal with, but it seems to me that kids who would do something like this are headed for worse crimes as they get older. Perhaps if the police could catch them doing this, they could help turn the kids around before vandalizing gardens turns into dealing drugs or stealing cars,” said Ms. Burhop.

“Once the vandalism was discovered, patrol units increased their presence around the school, especially during late- evening and overnight hours,” said Comdr. Pickett. He added that he had spoken to Commander Aretha Hartley from the Social Services Bureau, who informed him that School Resource Officers will closely monitor the area. He added that this was the sole reported incident.

“I checked calls for service at Dawes School from January through today’s date and discovered the incident in question was the only such incident reported. There have been no further reported incidents,” Cmdr. Pickett said.

“I do feel like there could be a real concerted effort to sweep through the park,” said Ms. Hyndman.

Though the destruction dampened her spirits, Ms. Hyndman said that “there’s just been a groundswell of support” from the community and other schools. She said the Lincolnwood Elementary School PTA offered to replace some of the destroyed property.

“This is a temporary setback. The possibility [of vandalism] is always there in an urban environment,” Ms. Hyndman said. She also said volunteers in the community have already filled in some of the gaps with herbs and other plants.

“Nothing’s going to deter us,” Ms. Hyndman said.