A Gardener Pushes For Legislation To Help Extend The Growing Season

Elmhurst resident Nicole Virgil has been advocating for the right to temporarily install a hoop house to use her garden through the winter.

Nicole Virgil Curious City
Monica Eng / WBEZ
Nicole Virgil Curious City
Monica Eng / WBEZ

A Gardener Pushes For Legislation To Help Extend The Growing Season

Elmhurst resident Nicole Virgil has been advocating for the right to temporarily install a hoop house to use her garden through the winter.

Last fall Curious City answered a question from avid gardener Yvonne Agnello-Adams, who wondered whether there was an affordable and easy way for Illinois gardeners to extend the growing season.

As we researched the issue, we found there are several ways to extend the growing season. They include expensive permanent greenhouses, low tunnels that can protect crops for a short time during the shoulder seasons and one very effective and pretty affordable option called a hoop house or high tunnel. Hoop houses protect the crops from the wind and snow and can keep the soil from freezing. By capturing the heat of the sun during the day, the hoop house can have inside temperatures that are 40 degrees hotter than the temperature outside.

In the process of reporting that story, Curious City met gardener Nicole Virgil, who lives in Elmhurst, Illinois. Back in 2015 Virgil tried to extend the growing season of her garden with a hoop house that was nine feet high at its tallest point.

But Virgil faced a complaint from a nearby neighbor who didn’t like the way the hoop house looked. The city followed up with a citation saying Virgil was violating a 2010 code against membrane structures and she had to take her hoop house down.

And Virgil’s been engaged in a fight with Elmhurst City Council ever since. Even the NAACP has gotten involved because they believed she was being discriminated against, according to Mike Childress, president of the DuPage County NAACP.

In this week’s podcast episode we catch back up with Virgil, who took her fight all the way to Springfield, where she pushed for legislation that would give her and other people in Illinois the ability to garden how they want to.

Monica Eng is the reporter for WBEZ’s Curious City. You can write to her at meng@wbez.org