Community gardens growing in Rockford

Comprehensive Community Solutions' garden in front of Booker Washington Community Center. The garden is planted with assorted vegetables. Photo by Elizabeth Cook

By Elizabeth Cook
Free-lance Writer

Rockford volunteers use their green thumbs to brighten up the southwest side neighborhoods with fresh, healthy, homegrown food. Last May, Comprehensive Community Solutions, Inc. (CCS), presented its Southwest Rockford community garden at Booker Washington Community Center.

The garden is 3,200 square feet and is filled with flourishing vegetables. The Booker Washington Community Center donated the space, which is now filled to the brim with corn, squash, spinach, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, okra, radishes and assorted herbs like mint and basil.

The garden was established in collaboration with Angelic Organics Learning Center (AOLC), Booker Washington Community Center, Eco-Advocates, South West Ideas for Today and Tomorrow (SWIFTT), and Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum.

Participants from CCS’s program for disadvantaged young people, YouthBuild and community volunteers will maintain the southwest garden.

So far, YouthBuild has had more than 80 volunteers work 400 hours of gardening. The seeds for the beautiful gardens are either purchased from a local farmers’ market or donated.

Other institutions planting community gardens include Eco-Advocates, SWIFTT, and Tinker Swiss Cottage.

One of Tinker Swiss Cottage's gardens, planted with flourishing vegetables. Photo by Elizabeth Cook

SWIFTT is a membership-based, non-profit economic and community development organization working to attract and retain businesses and services to improve the quality of life for people who live and work in southwest Rockford. The SWIFTT garden has a variety of flowers, vegetables and herbs.

Eco-Advocates is a vocational preparatory program on green jobs and urban agriculture for young adults facing barriers in employment. To date, Eco-Advocates has produced two different gardens—the first is solely tomatoes while the second is filled with growing herbs and spices.

Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum and Gardens has three different plots. The Railroad and Heirloom Vegetable gardens have a combination of flowers, vegetables and herbs. The restored Victorian Rose Garden is filled with more than 23 different kinds of antique roses.

After hours of researching and organizing the gardens, the seeds are planted and nurtured. The few setbacks so far include pesky Japanese beetles and water hoses that can actually reach the plants.

What happens to all the delicious vegetables? Produce is either donated to local food pantries or sold at farmers’ markets. The profit from the sale of the food either comes back to the program or is given to its hard-working volunteers.

Dan Danielowski, assistant executive director for CCS said, “We would like to give our students and participants the opportunity to see some profit for their work.” Volunteers are more than welcome to their fair share of tasty veggies, too!

The purpose of these gardens is to close the distance that stands between low-income populations and healthy, locally-grown food. The gardens will supply fresh food and provide urban agriculture training to all participants.

To assist with gardening, call Antar Baker at (815) 963-6236, ext. 246.

From the Aug. 4-10, 2010 issue

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