Rockford breaks ground on Healthy Community Project

"We are going back to an old-fashioned way of passing on knowledge," said Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey (I) of the city's Healthy Community Project. Photo by Jim Hagerty

By Jim Hagerty

Staff Writer

Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey (I) joined gardening professionals and volunteers at Tinker Swiss Cottage to kick off the city’s Healthy Community Project Monday, April 5. The mayor also broke ground on one of 40 community gardens being planned in the area.

Each garden aims to help reduce poverty, promote healthy habits by growing fresh foods and bring neighbors together to beautify Rockford neighborhoods.

Partially funded by a block grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, the Healthy Community project is a four-fold initiative.

Gardens will be planted on underused city property and be irrigated with rain barrels. Neighborhood Network, led by Executive Director Cyndie Hall, is bringing together neighborhood associations and other partners to strategically place each garden for easy and healthy access by neighbors and volunteers.

The University of Illinois Extension—Winnebago and Boone Counties, along with Master Gardeners, City of Rockford and other key groups, are slated to educate interested gardeners about how to make the collaboration successful and healthy.

“What we’ve heard from other places that do gardening is that you need a strong group to make it happen,” Hall said. “It’s not something you take on yourself because in the middle of July, it can get pretty lonely and pretty hot when you’re out there plucking weeds by yourself.”

Gardens will be planted on underused city property and be irrigated with rain barrels. Photo by Jim Hagerty

According to Morrissey, community gardening is an opportunity for government and citizens to work closely across several boundaries to grasp age-old techniques to promote community health and well-being.

“We are going back to an old-fashioned way of passing on knowledge,” Morrissey said. “We learn by doing—showing people how to use rain barrels (and) community gardens. This will not only help those who come behind us, but help us build self-confidence, build support and build the tools needed for people to get out of poverty and live healthier lives. Although we seem to have our backs against the wall with poverty and crime, we are realizing all we have is each other, but that’s enough.”

Jennifer Jaeger, Community Services Director for City of Rockford Human Services, explained the impact community gardening will have on reducing public aid expenses.

“The community gardens will decrease food stamp usage while providing access to fresh, nutritious food, especially for low-income families and youth,” Jaeger said.

Vegetables from the neighborhood gardens will go first to the neighborhoods involved. Gardens will participate in the Plant-A-Row for the Hungry, which produced more than 18 tons of produce for area food pantries last year.

Some gardens will sell produce at area farmers’ markets, using profits to boost neighborhood sustainability.

The 40 community gardens will be in Winnebago and Boone counties.

More information about the Healthy Community Project can be obtained by contacting Jaeger at (815) 987-5686.

From the April 7-13, 2010 issue

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