Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Garden Heroes

Community Gardens

The Harvard Community Garden germinated as an idea in 1999 when Dave Trumbell and Werner Heidtke got together with Kasey Murphy from the UI Cooperative Extension Service in Woodstock. The first garden was planted in 2001 and it has grown ever since, with the strong support of the City of Harvard and lots of community volunteers. Today, the garden sits on land donated by the City of Harvard and produces over 4,000 pounds of food for the Harvard Food Pantry.
The day I visited it was a great day to be out in the garden. It was cool and sunny and several volunteers had already harvested over 350 pounds of vegetables. There are several other community gardens in McHenry County, including one in McHenry at the Garden Quarter apartments, but the garden in Harvard is the largest. This year volunteers planted over 300 tomato plants, 100 plus peppers and lots of potatoes. They also grow broccoli, cabbage, peas, beans and zucchini. For the seniors that use the food pantry, they grow rhubarb, beets and turnips. To help keep down the weeds (and the work), the volunteers, who are mostly members of the county’s Master Gardener program, put down newspaper and straw between the rows. This also helps retain soil moisture.
The Harvard Food Pantry serves approximately 100 families, though this number fluctuates with the season. During the summer, when more people are working, it declines to 70-80 families. Senior citizens make up roughly 20-25 percent of the total families served.
The University of Illinois Extension Service helps coordinate the volunteers at the community gardens, gives cooking demonstrations at the food pantry and teaches nutrition classes. This government organization is funded by three sources: the federal government, the state and the county, hence the name "coopoerative." It is, I believe, an under-used resource in most communities. Originally founded to serve the agricultural community by taking the research done at our land grant universities and making that technology available to farmers, they soon realized that rural homemakers also needed information about nutrition. While still serving agriculture, they also focus on serving urban communities. The Master Gardeners volunteer to answer gardening questions and the extension staff does community outreach. A product of the 4-H program myself, I am an avid supporter of the extension service and hope that you take advantage of what they have to offer.

Still on my soapbox, if you have some spare time and would like to donate some of it to the community gardens, please give Kasey a call at 815.338.3737 or e-mail her at mailto:kmurphy@uiuc.edu .
And speaking of vegetables, it still not too late to get in a crop of lettuce or spinach. Stop by Countryside and get a pack or two of cool season vegetables we have already started for you.

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