Second Annual Veggie Tour: Planting the Seeds of Success

Staff Report

Saturday, Aug. 13, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., the public is invited to take the free (self-guided) Veggie Tour of several of the Planting the Seeds of Success Community Gardens. Visitors can see the program in action and speak with the gardeners.

Forty-three gardens received Community Services Block Grant funds through the City of Rockford Human Services Department in 2011. The community vegetable gardens are quite varied in purpose and growing methods. They have been created in such diverse locations as neighborhood plots, elementary schools, a senior facility, land donated by faith-based organizations, and residential facilities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Sites on the Veggie Tour: More information about the Community Gardens open for viewing Aug. 13 and maps will be found on the website or by contacting the Neighborhood Network office. The Veggie Tour includes:

1. Churchill’s Grove/Lawn Place Garden, lot at 995 N. Main St., Rockford

2. Ellis Heights United Neighborhood Center, 1810 W. State St., Rockford

3. Garden of Glory, lot at 1725 N. Winnebago St., Rockford

4. Gentle Shepherd, 5120 Rotary Road, Cherry Valley

5. Jeremiah’s Garden, southeast corner of Park Avenue and North Court Street, Rockford

6. Mosaic — specific location to be determined

7. Northeast Christian Church, 5651 E. Riverside Blvd., Rockford

8. ORCHID, lot at 723/727 S. Third St., Rockford

Why are these community gardens important?

The Planting the Seeds of Success Community Gardens serve the community in many ways, such as:

• Increasing production and consumption of inexpensive, locally-grown, nutritious food, especially for low-income residents and in food desserts. Nutrition is so important, but especially in raising healthy children. Too many families in the Rockford area can’t afford or don’t have access to fresh vegetables. Local gardens and donations are helping to change that.

Donating food to those in need. All gardens are sharing. Some gardens donate ALL of their produce to area pantries, often through Plant A Row for the Hungry, while others elect to provide a portion to pantries and the rest to community members. Regardless of the actual process, thousands of pounds of produce are being shared.

Learning life skills. A green thumb was not necessary to start with; people are learning the sustainable skills of growing food, with training and assistance as needed. Some are also selling produce to increase sustainability of the program and earn extra money.

Promoting healthier lifestyles. Gardening can be hard, physical work, but children and adults alike see the benefits when the vegetables are ready to pick. People who have never eaten vegetables like green beans, broccoli or okra are willing to try what they themselves have worked so hard to grow. Eating healthy and exercising become healthy habits.

Breaking down barriers while creating friends, neighbors and leaders. One of the best ways to get to know someone is to work next to them, overcome obstacles, achieve success — and share different food. Those skills and friendships enable and empower people to tackle other projects, and grassroots change continues.

Removing blight, creating beauty and caring for our environment. Volunteers have turned often neglected or underused property into carefully tended community vegetable gardens. Many are also learning how to use less water and fewer chemicals.

Program operation

The program continues its uniquely collaborative methods.

City of Rockford Human Services Department provides funding and fiscal management and assists in program management.

Neighborhood Network provides program coordination, communication and assists in program management.

University of Illinois Extension-Winnebago and volunteer Master Gardeners assist as educational advisers, and offer both formal and non-formal educational opportunities, trainings and technical assistance.

Volunteer Site Leaders provide garden coordination, monitoring and organization.

Volunteers garden specific locations.

Cyndie Hall, director of Neighborhood Network, states that “the Veggie Tour will give people the opportunity to visit some very interesting gardens and celebrate their success. Neighborhood Network seeks to provide technical assistance, resources and training to assist neighborhoods and improve communities, and the Planting the Seeds of Success Community Gardens project fits right in with our mission.”

The City of Rockford Human Services Department has been a key partner in the project by providing funding and grant management. “We are excited to celebrate the success of these gardens in addressing nutrition opportunities and encouraging community participation,” said Jennifer Jaeger, Community Services director for City of Rockford Human Services. She encourages people to come out and see the gardens Aug. 13.

From the Aug. 10-16, 2011, issue

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