From Lawns to Gardens (Big Idea 2018 proposal)

Here is our proposal submitted to the Big Idea contest sponsored by the Oak Park River Forest Community Foundation.


David Murphy, Director – Deep Roots Project, dmurphy@deep-roots-, (773) 502-5600. Deep Roots Project is not currently a 501c3 (we intend to file in the near future). In the meantime, we have asked Green Community Connections to be our fiscal agent.

1. What is your Big Idea?

Our Big Idea for 2018 is to encourage the conversion of local lawns into toxin free-gardens and landscapes. We propose to accomplish this by building 20 front yard showcase gardens throughout the community and enlisting 300 properties into a pesticide abatement program. Our gardens will be beautiful examples of eco-friendly landscapes full of nutrient rich organic produce and will serve as a desirable alternative to the traditional (toxically maintained) yard. This effort will be coupled with an educational/marketing campaign that promotes the benefits of organically grown food and raises awareness of the health and environmental dangers posed from toxins found in conventional lawn care treatments and on conventionally grown food. Our Big Idea will reduce the adverse health risks associated with toxically treated lawns and food, conserve water, reduce pollution, increase soil fertility, attract more beneficial pollinators and increase native habitats. Landscapes transformed by taking a small-scale approach, in the end, is a BIG IDEA.

2. How will your idea transform the community and why is that important?

Our Big Idea will foster a change in the way the community relates to the environment right outside their front door by educating people of all ages in Oak Park and River Forest about the benefits of creating healthy and aesthetic green spaces free of toxic chemicals. We will effect change through sharing our knowledge and our vision to protect the environment and public health. We must act now to be good stewards of our own health and of the environment before we lose what is so precious and often taken for granted.

3 From Lawns to Gardens case for investment

a) Key Activities:
Our key activities will include the creation of 20 high profile front yard gardens throughout the community. We will build the gardens on private and public lands and their locales will be chosen for their potential impact and visibility. The gardens will utilize products and methods that the Deep Roots Project has developed including custom built raised bed garden beds, Super Growth Soil for edible gardens, Mighty Moisture Mulch, organic fertilizers, rain water collection and automated irrigation systems. Our other activities will be focused on community outreach, marketing and education with the goal of enlisting 300 properties in a pesticide abatement program like the “Healthy Lawn, Healthy Family” program in River Forest. We will actively promote the benefits of nutritious organically grown food and the adoption of natural lawn care.

b) Beneficiaries:
From Lawns to Gardens will provide all the necessary materials and labor to build 20 showcase gardens. These will be installed on private and public spaces that may include private front yards, at faith based organizations, parks and business properties. We will require that a portion (25%) of the garden harvests be donated to the food insecure. All of our educational workshops and marketing events on gardening and natural lawn care will be held free of charge and all will be welcome to attend. Applicants for the front yard gardens will be required to sign a pesticide abatement pledge. Applications will be positively weighted by the number of pesticide abatement pledges on the applicant’s block (more pledges will increase the applicant’s chance of winning the garden). We will also be favoring neighbors who want to pair up so that the combined gardens will make an even bigger impact and consolidate labor resources. Everyone is a winner when fewer toxins are spread into the environment and healthy nutritious food is abundant.

c) Key Partners:
River Forest Sustainability Commission

We have an agreement in place with the RFSC to assist in providing their 2018 Green Block Parties. This collaboration will help us attain pesticide abatement pledges and solicit garden applications. The program outlined below is contingent on Deep Roots winning the Big Idea’s Grant but if we do not win we will be exploring other avenues of funding our collaboration.

  • Deep Roots Project will install 6 gardens in River Forest, with one location being a congregation or institution.
  • Deep Roots will conduct at least 2 workshops in River Forest and give away small compost bags at each workshop. The workshops will capitalize on the opportunity to educate residences on composting and encourage residents to sign onto the curbside composting pick up program.
  • Deep Roots will work with the River Forest Green Block Party Program and Sugar Beet School House to offer residents the opportunity to take the Heathy Lawns Healthy Families Pledge for chemical free lawn care practices.  Each resident who signs the pledge will have the opportunity to apply for a chance to receive a free front yard garden to be installed in the fall. 
  • Deep Roots will assist with the administration of the Healthy Lawns, Healthy Families program, by collecting pledges and installing the lawn signs (provided by the RFSC) on the resident’s lawn at the block party. 
  • In addition to the above, we will explore other collaborations for possible garden installation on Park District and/or village property as part of a grant for municipal green open space projects.

Deep Roots Project made presentations on Natural Lawn Care at the Green Block Parties in Oak Park in 2017 and we are working to put a similar agreement (like the one with RFSC) together with the Village of Oak Park and Green Community Connections for this year.

Midwest Grows Green is a community-based lawn and landscape care initiative unified by a single message – protect people, pets and the environment by practicing natural lawn care. MGG educates the community on natural lawn care in order to reduce the amount of synthetic herbicides, insecticides, and fertilizers used. Lawn and gardening chemicals can harm people, pets, wildlife, and waterways. By presenting safer alternative practices and products, Midwest Grows Green aims to reduce the use and harmful effects of outdoor pesticides. We have an agreement to put MGG on retainer and utilize their experience, staff and intellectual materials to make our pesticide abatement program a success.

KaliKalé, Urban Farms and Learning Gardens is a company founded by Daniel Price that promotes food security through local agriculture. It leads in the development of school gardens through consultation and direct instruction. Daniel has led some of DRP’s most successful workshops.

Dig Right In Landscaping, Inc. provides eco-friendly landscape design, installation and maintenance services. One of the company's specialties is residential and institutional vegetable garden design/build/fill/and consulting, which is accomplished through its carpentry division and staff knowledgeable in organic gardening and organic lawn care practices. The company annually supports community gardens throughout the area with garden mix/compost donations, compost tea applications and public presentations promoting edible and eco-friendly landscaping. Dig Right In has been a supporter of Deep Roots Project since its inception and provides us with resources including landscape and garden design, workshop presentations, compost tea and general consulting.

d) Background:
From Lawns to Gardens is an initiative of Deep Roots Project. The Deep Roots Project organization was born out of last year’s Big Idea competition and will be instrumental in helping to achieve From Lawns to Gardens objectives. DRP’s leadership, volunteers, website, gardening products, and stakeholders will all be essential to our success. Deep Roots has cultivated several key partner relationships with businesses and organizations who share our vision. We desire to capitalize on this momentum and leverage the Big Idea Grant to effect a dramatic change to better the environment and the quality of life in our community.

Deep Roots Project is:
David Murphy (Director, DRP) is a lifelong entrepreneur founding and operating companies involved in product development and manufacturing, food distribution and entertainment. David has led companies with sales in access of $5.5 million annually and has strong marketing and accounting skills. He is also a Senior Leader with the LIVESTRONG foundation coordinating the efforts of a dozen volunteers in Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. He has transformed his own health through a passion for exercise and an organic diet.

Estelle Carol (Executive Director, DRP) owner Webtrax Studio. Estelle has been instrumental in forming and contributing to community and activist-based organizations from the day she first arrived at the University of Chicago. Estelle is an accomplished gardener dedicated to finding the most economical and efficient products and methods to help many other gardeners with time and money limitations to install healthy, edible and beautiful landscapes.

Will Schreiber (Executive Director, DRP) is DRP’s product development specialist who researches and tests new organic gardening technologies. He brings the wisdom of 25+ years as a small business owner. Will is an electrical and computer engineer, whose company Automated Systems and Controls (ASC) is known for creative innovative solutions in the manufacturing and warehousing industry. His experience with providing statistical metrics analysis for many of his clients will be instrumental to tracking and guiding DRP projects

e) Value Propositions:
From Lawns to Gardens will be fairly unique in its mission within our community. There are currently only a handful of community gardens in the area and no one else is building gardens as showcases of a better alternative to lawns as well as a method to ensure access to healthy organic food. These aspects combined with our sustainable business model make our proposition truly unique. Efforts from organizations like Midwest Grows Green, Go Green Oak Park, Seven Generations Ahead, Green Community Connections, the River Forest Sustainability Commission and the Village of Oak Park have raised awareness and encouraged adoption of more sustainable practices. From Lawns to Gardens will help to substantiate that message and also provide the DIY training and connections to professional landscapers to help make greater progress. The occurrence rates of diseases with connections to the toxins found in conventional lawn care treatments and conventionally grown food are increasing at an alarming rate with our children and pets at particularly high risk. The dangers posed from these toxins have been linked to serious health issues such as cancer, asthma, infertility and birth defects. These toxins have also been associated with the decline of essential pollinators and the contamination of our water and soil. For more information on these topics please visit Beyond Pesticides website at

f) Buy-in Support:
From Lawns to Gardens will need buy-in from local homeowners, businesses, governments and other community organizations. To reach our goals we will need to collaborate with the existing “green” community, local governments and park districts and schools. We feel that it is particularly important to set an encouraging tone by approaching the current situation as a joyful opportunity to make positive changes. We feel strongly that the preponderance of evidence is now available to motivate the populace to take action.

g) Launch:

  • Our gardening products are already available through the Deep Roots website and our new online store will launch prior to March 7th.
  • We will start taking applications for the front yard gardens on April 1st .
  • Deep Roots Project will host a table at the Oak Park Earth Day Celebration (April 22nd ) and will have a weekly presence at the Oak Park Farmer’s Markets.
  • We currently have 3 workshops open for registration on our website and Facebook page @thedeeprootsprojectoakpark
    • Natural Lawn Care (March 17)
    • Designing Beautiful Edible and Native Gardens (April 15th )
    • Spring Gardening Methods (May 5th )

We will use these events along with the Green Block Parties as opportunities to promote pesticide abatement pledges, organic gardening and soliciting garden applications.

Our plan is to build 7 front yard gardens by June 15st and 7 more by August 1st . The final 6 gardens will be built by October 15 th (these will mostly be built in River Forest and they will not grow produce until 2019).

Each garden will be stocked with seedlings and the recipients will be assigned a garden mentor who will help them get the most out of the experience. The garden mentor will assist recipients for 2 years and Deep Roots will provide seedlings and support during the second year as well.

h) Mission Achievements:
In 2018, we will build 20 gardens throughout the community that may include private yards, church lands, parks, etc. 20 new gardens will be the just tip of the iceberg. Deep Roots Project will hold workshops to teach the essential elements demonstrated in the showcase gardens. The workshops will familiarize the community to Deep Roots Project’s products and services and will share the knowledge needed to help transform their own yards. Marketing and other educational efforts will encourage the adoption natural lawn care and promote the benefits of organic food for optimal health. These efforts will provide a viral effect that will evolve our community’s relationship with the land right outside their front door.

We expect that in two years that 300 property owner/managers will enlist in a pesticide abatement plan and the emergence of 50 new private and/or community gardens. Deep Roots will provide the resources that will help guide everyone through the process of lawn conversion while creating a model that other communities can follow.

  • 300 yards enrolled in pesticide abatement program = 60 acres of land That equates to over 100 pounds of synthetic toxins being eliminated from the environment every year.
  • 50, 4 x 8 foot raised garden beds = 1,600 square feet of garden space 1,600 sq/ft of garden space can easily grow $12,000 worth of organic produce per year.

i) Budget

Screen Shot 2018-04-09 at 3.09.33 PM.png

Deep Roots Project will profit through the sale of its unique gardening products and services, as well as commissions paid to it from our commercial partners which will continue to fund From Lawns to Gardens initiative. DRP’s products and services will include raised garden bed kits, custom garden soil, mulch, soil amendments, garden design and installation, rain water collection and automated irrigation systems. DRP expects to be self-supporting from these revenue streams but will also pursue grants, hold fundraising events, solicit donations and leverage partnerships to continue converting lawns into gardens well into the future!